Integrity of medical certificates

Integrity of Medical Certificates

Share This Post

Abuse of sick leave by employees is a pandemic that affects many employers. An employer is not expected to tolerate an employee’s prolonged absence from work for incapacity due to ill health. A medical certificate constitutes indirect evidence of an employee’s illness, and an employer is entitled to query the validity of a medical certificate by requiring further supporting documentation from the medical practitioner in question.

There are two requirements for a medical certificate to be valid:

  • It must state that the employee was unable to perform his or her normal duties as a result of illness (or an injury).

  • And it must be based on the professional opinion of the medical practitioner.

In other words, a certificate that states that the practitioner “saw the patient” or “was informed by the patient” is not considered a valid medical certificate since the practitioner did not declare in his/her professional opinion that the employee was unable to perform his/her normal duties as a result of illness (or an injury). Such certificates are merely an indication that the practitioner saw the patient, for example a check-up, or that s/he was informed that the patient was unfit for duty.

In a recent Labour Court case Epibiz (Pty) Ltd v Commission for Conciliation, Mediation & Arbitration & Others (2023) 44 ILJ 2226 (LC) the court commented on the integrity of medical certificates or sick notes and said that sick notes as issued are often not worth the paper they are written on as they do not set out the nature of illness or symptoms that would render the employee incapable to perform their work. They may also often be fraudulent, and it is an employer’s prerogative to question the veracity or integrity of such sick notes.

In the above-mentioned case, it was apparent that the employee herself could not explain her illness recorded in the medical certificates she obtained from her doctor. The treating doctor did not depose an affidavit to substantiate the nature of illness recorded in the medical certificate. Further, the treating doctor was not called by the employee to give oral evidence in the arbitration proceedings.

It is common law that a medical certificate or a sick note from a treating physician remains hearsay evidence if the said certificate is not accompanied by an affidavit from the said doctor. In expanding on this principle, the Labour Appeal Court in Mghobozi v Naidoo & others [2006] 3 BLLR 242 (LAC) said the following: ‘The absence of affidavits from the doctors means that the court is deprived of any elaboration of the widely and vaguely stated symptoms attributed to the appellant. The nature of the medication and the efficacy thereof is also not explained.’

While the BCEA makes provision for sick leave and allows employees to provide medical certificates, employers do not have to accept medical certificates, because they comprise hearsay evidence. Depending on the circumstances, the employer is entitled to query or reject the medical certificate and where necessary take action against an employee.

Contact LabourNet or view our socials for additional information – Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Youtube

More To Explore

Bumping in 189 Proceedings
Industrial Relations

Bumping in 189 Proceedings

Fischer Tube Technik SA v Bayene and Another ZALAC (21 May 2024) In a recent Labour Appeal Court Judgement handed down in May 2024, the court investigated the application of

Industrial Relations

Fire Protection in the Workplace

Fire protection plays a key role in safeguarding companies, employees, assets, and operations from the negative impact of fires. Implementing effective fire protection measures offers numerous benefits that contribute to