When can employers refuse a medical certificate?
A recent decision by the Australian Fair Work Commission in Gadzikwa v. Australian Government Department of Social Services,  FWC 4878, confirmed that employers have the right to reject employee medical certificates when they are too vague to allow basic legal obligations to be fulfilled properly.
The case heard by the Board in that case concerned an employee who had been on extended personal leave without pay due to a mental health problem. When the employee was due to return to work, he was advised that he would have to provide his employer with proof of his fitness for duty.
The employee provided a two-line medical certificate from his attending practitioner indicating that he was fit to perform “light duties”.
The employer dismissed the employee following a reasoned and incomplete response to a follow-up request for more details.
The employee lodged a complaint for unfair dismissal, alleging, among other things, that the information he had provided constituted sufficient proof of his suitability.
The board denied the unfair dismissal request and concluded that the employee did not provide an appropriate medical clearance at the end of his leave of absence because the medical certificate:
- Did not specify the nature of the duties the employee was and was not able to perform.
- Omitted the reasons why the employee was fit for work in circumstances where the same doctor and another doctor had previously concluded that the employee was unfit for work.
- Did not describe the length of time required for any change in working arrangements or the date on which the employee could return to his substantive position.
- Submitted two weeks late.
This case is one of many cases where employers should reject medical certificates that do not provide enough information to allow adequate protection of the health and safety of an employee at work.
However, employees should be given a reasonable opportunity to provide better evidence, and decisions to fire or take other disciplinary action should never be rushed.
In addition, all surrounding communications with employees must be clear, courteous and supportive in order to reduce the risk of successful claims.
Employers should seek legal advice before rejecting an invalid medical certificate or terminating an employee based on a certificate provided.
Stella Gehrckens is a graduate lawyer at Macpherson Kelley, an Australian law firm. © 2018 Macpherson Kelley. All rights reserved. Republished with permission from Lexology.