The dangers of abusing medical certificates at work

The dangers of abusing medical certificates at work

Every Australian is legally entitled to take sick leave when they are deemed too ill to work by a doctor and, as you probably know, this is formalised via a medical certificate. A medical certificate is your doctor’s official written statement that, in their professional opinion, you need time off to rest and recover.

While most employees will be honest and only use a medical certificate when they are genuinely too ill to work, there are examples of people who have sought to abuse the system and the trust of their employers. Most of these people at least attempt to maintain the pretence they are actually sick, but the following example is quite unique.

In 2008, an avid AFL fan and Casino worker decided to request a medical certificate from his local GP in order to take a day off work to watch a footy match. He successfully got a certificate covering him for the day of the match and presented it to their employer, being completely upfront that it was for the purpose of seeing a footy match.

Needless to say, the employer was less than impressed with this idea, but met them halfway and suggested that his employee swap shifts or request annual leave to attend the match instead. The employee refused either of these options, saying that their medical certificate could not be disputed by the employer.

The employee attended the match and lodged a claim for unfair dismissal when their employer terminated them. The courts dismissed the claim, citing a series of factors that made it impossible for anyone to reasonably believe the employee was sick.

The doctor who issued the medical certificate gave evidence that proved they could not have conducted a proper diagnosis, and the fact that that certificate was logged 4 days prior to the match made it impossible for said doctor to know if the employee would be unfit for work or not. It was also clear to all witnesses that the employee showed no signs of illness other than citing their emotional distress about the retirement of two players (something that nobody took seriously).

This case is quite unique because if the employee had never admitted they were intending to misuse their sick leave, then they would have probably not have been challenged by their employer – even if said employer strongly suspected they were at a footy match and not recovering in bed. As the law stands, the employer would have been expected to take the employee at their word and accept the legitimacy of the medical certificate presented to them.

Because second-guessing an employee’s medical certificate is such a big risk for employers if it backfires, most will choose to give employees the benefit of the doubt. In this case, however, the employees’ brazen misuse of their medical certificate made it impossible for anyone to construe the employer’s decision to terminate them as unfair dismissal.

In summary, this story demonstrates that while medical certificates come with great power, they also demand greater responsibility. It also shows that employers are not necessarily bound to respect a medical certificate given to them under questionable circumstances – such as the employee openly admitting they intend to misuse it.

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