Employees found guilty of falsifying/altering hand written notes on a medical certificate can be found guilty of committing a criminal offence punishable by a court of law such as a magistrate’s court.
Whilst sick leave is granted to an employee in terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, such leave is not meant to be abused or misused for other means such as malingering. In instances where an employee wishes to exercise the sick leave available to him/her, the employee must submit a valid medical certificate issued which is signed by a registered medical practitioner.
Falsification of sick-notes/certificates undermines the authority of Management in effectively managing the business. Such dubious acts by an employee are undoubtedly the root cause of damaging the employer – employee relationship irretrievably, apart from criminal and disciplinary sanctions that may ensue for the employee.
Employers are entitled to question the validity of a medical certificate, especially if it appears to be dubious. The employer must find evidence that the medical certificate issued is false.
Is my employer allowed to contact my medical practitioner?
The laws of doctor patient privilege does not prevent a medical practitioner, if questioned, from disclosing to your employer that you were seen and diagnosed by him. An employer has a right to validate the sick note/medical certificate you produce by conducting its own independent investigation by making enquiries with your medical practitioner on the veracity of your visit with him/her based on the contents provided on the sick note / medical certificate. The health professional may not without your permission share any information which is considered to be “doctor/patient” information: such information is confidential. In law, the patient (employee/worker) must give express permission to the doctor to allow his employer to discuss any aspect of his/her medical status. For example if an employee attends at a General Practitioner and the latter has written out the diagnosis of the patient the doctor may confirm this with the employer once his patient has permitted him to discuss his symptoms relating to the illness. The doctor must retain the principle of GP/patient confidentiality at all times and only reveal as much information as the patient permits him to do so.
What constitutes a valid medical certificate?
Various factors are taken into consideration when determining the legitimacy of a medical certificate. Some of the most prominent factors include the following:
- The person issuing the certificate must be a medical practitioner (this includes medical practitioners such as doctors, dentists, psychologists and any other practitioners registered with the relevant Health Professions Council of South Africa).
- The name, practise number, qualification, telephone number and address of the medical practitioner must be clearly visible on the medical certificate.
- The certificate must state that the employee was unable to perform his duties because of his illness / injury.
- The certificate must also specify the date on which the employee was unfit for work and the date on which he/she shall return to work.
- Registered traditional healers are also permitted to hand out sick notes.
May I use my Sick leave for other appointments?
The simple answer to this is no. A medical certificate or sick leave cannot be used for routine check-ups, examinations, medical tests, collection of medication from a pharmacy or appointments with other medical practitioners. Sick leave is available for use by an employee when he/she is genuinely ill and in instances where he/she is recovering from a medical procedure which renders the employee unfit to perform his normal duties.
What sanctions are imposed if found guilty of falsifying sick notes?
If the employer has enough proof, substantiated by witnesses, the employer may suspend the employee and issue a notice to attend a disciplinary hearing on the grounds of submitting a fraudulent or false medical certificate to the employer.
The penalties imposed if found guilty of falsifying a sick note is serious and should not be taken lightly. A dismissal may easily be imposed in a disciplinary hearing if an employee is charged with falsification of a sick note which amounts to fraud. Furthermore criminal charges may result should an employee try to alter a sick note and a charge is filed at a Police Station.
To prove guilt in a disciplinary hearing the employer must show:
- That the medical certificate was false;
- That the employee knew it was false;
- That the employee submitted the false medical certificate intended to mislead the employer.
Employers tend to keep a watchful eye on an employee’s absenteeism and if a pattern of continuous / frequent absenteeism is found, further investigations may be carried out and the veracity of your sick notes could well fall under scrutiny.
If you are not genuinely ill rather apply for annual / unpaid leave instead of taking a chance and falsifying dates or other information on a medical certificate, as the repercussions are damaging to you and your career.
In the unlikely event that your medical practitioner has in fact made an error on your sick note rather request for another one to be provided by the GP rather than attempting to rectify any information yourself.