Irrefutable proof? Challenging a medical certificate

Irrefutable proof? Challenging a medical certificate

Can the validity of a medical certificate be challenged? Or is it irrefutable proof of the reason for an employee's absence?

We all know how it goes. You refuse an employee’s request to take annual leave because of operational requirements. The employee then takes time off, claiming sick leave for the period originally requested as annual leave.

You strongly doubt they were in fact sick and suspect they were basking in the sun on the leave you originally denied – but they have a medical certificate to cover the period.

What can you do?


Evidence to challenge

Production of a medical certificate is generally regarded as irrefutable proof that an employee was unfit for work due to the stated illness or injury. So challenging the certificate is a very hard thing to do – even if you have serious doubts about the genuineness of the employee’s illness or injury.

To successfully challenge the accuracy of a medical certificate, you need to confront the employee with evidence of the activities contradicting the medical certificate. The onus is on the employer to produce evidence refuting the certificate’s accuracy. Hearsay from another employee does not amount to reasonable evidence. More substantial evidence is needed to prove the employee was undertaking activities inconsistent with the medical certificate.

As an employer, you need to keep in mind that an employee has a number of statutory protections under the Fair Work Act 2009. These include protection against being dismissed due to temporary absence from work due to illness or injury.


AMA guidelines

The guidelines issued by the Australian Medical Association state that the usual requirements for a medical certificate are:

  • Name and address of the medical practitioner issuing the certificate
  • Name of the patient
  • Date on which the examination took place
  • Date on which the certificate was issued
  • Date(s) on which the patient is or was unfit for work.

Guideline 2.4 states that “where a third party (e.g. the employer) contacts the doctor to verify the veracity of a medical certificate, the doctor should verify the third party’s identity, ask for a copy of the certificate and confirm the veracity of the certificate. The doctor should not provide any other information about the patient without the patient’s consent.”


Successful challenges

That said, there have been cases before industrial tribunals where employers have successfully challenged medical certificates.

In one notable case, it was found that an employee who produced a medical certificate as proof of illness was not unfairly dismissed, as there was proof he attended a football match on the that day.

In another case, an employer who dismissed an employee who presented a false medical certificate to claim one week of sick leave, was deemed to have a valid reason for dismissal. The employer checked with the surgery and was informed the doctor had neither seen the employee, nor provided the certificate.

Finally, in a case in which REEF recently acted for a member, an employee’s absence due to injured foot (which was accompanied by a medical certificate) was challenged on the basis there was photographic evidence on Instagram of her attendance at a rock concert – moon boot and all!


Give REEF a call

If you have doubts about the veracity of an employee’s medical certificate, speak with a REEF Workplace Relations Advisor by calling 1300 616 170. We can advise you about any potential challenge.

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About REEF

The Real Estate Employers' Federation is the real estate industry’s leading not-for-profit employer and workplace relations advisory association. It has more than 1600 members and subscribers across Australia.

Each year, REEF receives more than 20,000 calls from real estate employers needing help and guidance on matters affecting the employment relationship.

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