The Role of Medical Certificates in the Workplace

Thursday, February 18, 2021

 Registered medical practitioners are empowered by the regulatory framework of their profession to certify whether employees are able or unable to perform their work duties as a result of illness. The purpose of a medical certificate in the employment context is to communicate the reason for the absence of an employee due to illness to an employer in an accessible and easily verifiable manner.
 As per the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997 (BCEA) Section 23 (1) the employer is not required to pay an employee in terms of section 22 if the employee has been absent from work for more than two consecutive days or on more than two occasions during an eight-week period and, on request by the employer, does not produce a medical certificate stating that the employee was unable to work for the duration of the employee’s absence on account of sickness or injury.

What does this mean?  If your employee has only been off sick for one day you cannot ask them to provide a medical certificate, however if they have been off sick for 2+ consecutive days or twice in a 8 week period, then you can request a medical certificate.

What information should be in a medical certificate? 

The Ethical Rules of Conduct for Practitioners Registered under the Health Professions Act, 1974 as published in GN 717 (as amended) Rule 16 provides as follows:

16. Certificates and reports
(1) A practitioner shall grant a certificate of illness only if such certificate contains the following information -
(a) the name, address and qualification of such practitioner;
(b) the name of the patient;
(c) the employment number of the patient (if applicable);
(d) the date and time of the examination;
(e) whether the certificate is being issued as a result of personal observations by such practitioner during an examination, or as a result of information which has been received from the patient and which is based on acceptable medical grounds;
(f) a description of the illness, disorder or malady in layman’s terminology with the informed consent of the patient: Provided that if such patient is not prepared to give such consent, the practitioner shall merely specify that, in his or her opinion based on an examination of such patient, such patient is unfit to work;
(g) whether the patient is totally indisposed for duty or whether such patient is able to perform less strenuous duties in the work situation;
(h) the exact period of recommended sick leave;
(i) the date of issue of the certificate of illness; and
(j) the initial and surname in block letters and the registration number of the practitioner who issued the certificate.
(2) A certificate of illness referred to in subrule (1) shall be signed by a practitioner next to his or her initials and surname printed in block letters.
(3) If preprinted stationery is used, a practitioner shall delete words which are not applicable.
(4) A practitioner shall issue a brief factual report to a patient where such patient requires information concerning himself or herself.

The Use of Medical Certificates as Evidence in a Disciplinary Hearings and at the CCMA

The Evidence Amendment Act 45 of 1998 makes it clear that hearsay evidence includes evidence given in writing by a person other than the deponent to an affidavit. This means that a medical certificate, which is submitted by the employee, is evidence given in writing by another person - and therefore constitutes hearsay evidence. Hearsay evidence is not admissible unless it is supported by other direct evidence.  In Mgobhozi v Naidoo NO & Others [2006] 3 BLLR 242 (LAC) the court noted that the fact that the appellant in that matter had referred to the medical certificates in his sworn affidavit did not make them anything other than hearsay evidence - because he was referring to evidence in writing given by another person. Medical certificates remain hearsay evidence unless the doctor files a supplementary affidavit in support of the medical certificate.

What does this mean in your disciplinary hearings?  If you are in a hearing for 'Abuse of Sick Leave' or 'Dishonesty or Fraud charges pertaining to the falsification of documents (fake medical certificates)' the employee cannot simply revert back to the medical certificate as evidence that they were ill and booked off. The person who wrote the document, in this case the Dr. who drafted the medical certificate, would have to either be present or have provided an affidavit to support the medical certificate. 

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