It’s going viral: E-medical certificates

The colder weather marks the start of the cold and flu season where a cough or sneeze starting from one person quickly spreads throughout the whole office. The season also creates challenges for employers who may have to manage a dwindling workforce where employees (or their family members) may be struck down with an illness and need to take personal (sick) / carers leave.

To ensure that sick leave is being accessed for its intended purpose, a workplace policy or enterprise agreement may outline when an employee is required to provide medical certificates to support a period of absence for sick leave.

Most commonly, medical certificates are obtained following a face to face consultation with a General Practitioner (GP) who certifies an employee as unfit for work. However, proving that the internet is not just for Googling symptoms, technology has now made it possible for employees to obtain medical certificates (known as e-certificates) for common medical conditions in different ways – including through online consultations.

Online medical services allow for an appointment to be booked on a website or through a smartphone app. The consultation with the medical practitioner then takes place through a video call or audio call. A signed e-certificate will then be issued and available to be downloaded by the employee – all from the comfort of their home.

In a period of high absenteeism such as the cold and flu season, the emergence of this new technology is a timely reminder for employers who may be uncertain about if and when they should request medical certificates and checking the veracity of medical certificates, including e-certificates.


Our top tips regarding sick leave and medical certificates

  1. Employers should have a degree of trust in their employees – sick leave is a workplace entitlement.

    Under the National Employment Standards (NES), employees are entitled to sick leave and they will access it at some point in their employment – occasionally at times that don’t suit their employer. Unfortunately, the cold and flu virus doesn’t know that it’s the end of the financial year or a Friday.

    Employers should respect sick leave as a workplace entitlement and be aware that it is a contravention of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) to take adverse action against an employee because they access sick leave.

    Generally, employees will do the right thing and take their sick leave when they are genuinely sick and employers should resist the urge to jump to the conclusion that an employee is abusing their sick leave because they fall ill at an inconvenient time.

  2.  Request evidence when in doubt.

    Unfortunately, there are some employees who may see the cold and flu season as an opportunity to use their sick leave and take a “sickie”.
    Under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), employers are able to request ‘evidence that would satisfy a reasonable person’ that the leave is being taken for its intended purpose, which is usually a medical certificate. A workplace policy or applicable industrial instrument may specify when an employee is required to provide evidence.

  3. When the evidence doesn’t add up, verify.

    If employers are in doubt about the authenticity of a medical certificate, they can check the legitimacy of the certification.

    Employers can contact the GP or medical practice that issued the medical certificate, but should be aware of the limits of the information they can request.  Permissible questions are limited to:
  • if the employee is a patient at the medical centre;
  • whether the employee consulted the GP on the date stated on the medical certificate; and
  • confirmation of the period the employee was certified as unfit for work.

Employers cannot and should not ask for information about the employee’s condition – that information is personal medical information and cannot be revealed by treating practitioners without an authority from the employee. 

Shane Koelmeyer is a leading workplace relations lawyer and Director at Workplace Law. Workplace Law is a specialist law firm providing employers with legal advice, training and representation in all aspects of workplace relations, employment-related matters and WH&S.

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