Asking for a doctor’s note – the right way

Tuesday October 5, 2021

National Employment Standards, under the Fair Work Act, state that an employee taking personal leave must, if required by their employer, provide evidence in support of the leave. This can be a doctor’s note or a statutory declaration – anything that provides “sufficient evidence” to convince a “reasonable person” that the employee was genuinely entitled to the sick leave. A statutory declaration, a letter or even an email can be enough to constitute “sufficient evidence”.

In general, employers rarely have to ask for evidence of sick leave, and employees rarely need to provide it. Most employers and employees abide by the system of sick leave fairly and reasonably, with an element of trust and understanding on both sides.

Occasionally, however, employers will feel the need to request a doctor’s note from an employee. As such, it’s important to have preordained workplace policies in place, to make asking for such a note fair and equitable across the entire workforce.

For example, your workplace policy may state that all absences need to be covered by a medical certificate or, alternatively, a medical certificate is only required if the absence is for three or more days. Introduce a comprehensive workplace policy and be aware that you do not have to pay sick leave if the employee fails to provide evidence.

Consider introducing a policy that addresses ongoing absences – for instance, if an employee is regularly taking single days of sick leave across many weeks. If there is an ongoing situation that indicates an issue with the employee’s long-term health, it is reasonable to request a doctor’s note for every absence and even a medical report, to make sure the employee is able to perform their job.

There is, of course, a fine line between employer concern and an employee bullying claim. In requesting a doctor’s note for every absence, an employee could allege the conduct constituted repeated unreasonable behaviour, thus satisfying the definition of “bullying” in the Fair Work Act. As such, clear workplace policies are absolutely essential.

Within these workplace policies, specify the importance of providing information regarding the medical condition. This may seem an invasion of privacy, but in fact, such information is essential in establishing whether your employee is able to perform their job, or what measures can be implemented to assist them in their role.

If an employee has an ongoing medical condition, it can be in the interest of both the employer and the employee to send them to an independent medical specialist who is able to assess their ability to perform everyday tasks. You cannot demand a detailed diagnosis, but you can request enough information to understand what your employee is able and unable to do at work.

By implementing workplace policies and building trusting, open and honest relationships across your team, the issue of sick leave should rarely become problematic.


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