Article by Carla Meiring (SEESA)
Submitting false documentation is a serious offence which warrants a hearing, sadly employers are often lost when trying to establish if medical certificates are valid and this misconduct is often overlooked.
Both section 23 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) and Rule 16 of the Ethical Guidelines from the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) set out requirements for medical certificates. Rule 16 states:
1. A practitioner shall only grant a certificate of illness if such certificate contains the following information, namely:
- the name, address and qualification of the practitioner;
- the name of the patient;
- the employment number of the patient (if applicable);
- the date and time of the examination;
- whether the certificate is being issued as a result of personal observations by the practitioner during an examination, or as the result of information received from the patient and which is based on acceptable medical grounds;
- a description of the illness, disorder or malady in layman’s terminology with the informed consent of the patient: Provided that if the patient is not prepared to give such consent, the medical practitioner or dentist shall merely specify that, in his or her opinion based on an examination of the patient, the patient is unfit to work;
- whether the patient is totally indisposed for duty or whether the patient is able to perform less strenuous duties in the work situation;
- the exact period of recommended sick leave;
- the date of issuing the certificate of illness; and the surname in printed or block letters.
2. If pre-printed stationery is used, a practitioner shall delete words which are irrelevant.
False medical certificates can be either a legitimate document which the employee amended or a decoy document bought without the employee consulting a practitioner. To investigate here are some guidelines:
- Consider the information. Does the diagnosis (if disclosed) warrant the period of absence? If the employee has a history of illness why does he/she attend different doctors? If it is the same doctor, does the handwriting/signature match. Why is the stamp always in the same place? Are there any amendments variances in writing?
- Attempt to verify the practice or registration number on the certificate on the HPCSA’s website or by contacting them directly.
- Attempt to contact the practitioner to verify the certificate. Send him a copy of the certificate for his comment. Practitioners are prohibited from disclosing the medical condition of the employee without their consent, however, they may verify the authenticity of the certificate. Should the practitioner deny the document, you may need to him as a witness in the disciplinary proceedings.
- Request a statement from the employee regarding what transpired on the attendance of the practitioner, the location and the actual consultation. Compare it with the certificate. If the employee alleges that he was examined by a practitioner and the certificate is legitimate, you may request him to show you where he was. Often there is no practitioner at the address, or it differs from the certificate.
In a hearing, you will need to prove on a balance of probabilities the employee was aware the document was false and that he was attempting to deceive you by submitting this. These are merely tips to steer you in the right direction when trying to establish the authenticity of a medical certificate and should you have any further queries or require assistance kindly contact your nearest SEESA office.
About the author
Carla Meiring obtained her BCom Law and LLB degrees from the University of the Free State. After completing her articles at Horn and Van Rensburg Attorneys in Bloemfontein, she was admitted as an attorney. She worked as a general Legal Advisor before joining SEESA Labour at our Durban Office in 2017.