Fake Sick Certificates
An HR Officer was off work for 3 days claiming family responsibility leave due to her daughter who lived in a city 6 hours away having fallen and broken her leg in a mall. When asked for a certificate she duly complied – the only problem was that the telephone number of daughter’s doctor’s the practice was a cellphone.
Smelling a rat, the employer contacted the Health Professionals Council who confirmed that there was a doctor of the name on the certificate but that the telephone number was incorrect. A call to the doctor subsequently confirmed that he had not issued the certificate – the certificate presented to the employer was a fake.
When the employee was confronted she eventually confessed to having altered the sick certificate.
Check medical certificates
This goes to show why it is important to check medical certificates. It is simply too easy to obtain a sick certificate and to stay off work on full pay. Apart from fraudsters selling fake certificates, there are also doctors who either sell certificates or who simply book malingerers off work when they are not ill. Not only that but employees themselves can create false certificates using Photoshop.
Some patients are past masters of faking illness, even to the extent of reading up on medical conditions so they can give the doctor the correct symptoms of an illness in order to get booked off. If a patient consults a doctor claiming back ache, abdominal pains or some obscure malady, the doctor will probably err on the side of caution, especially if the patient claims he is too ill to work.
That is why it is so important to monitor sick leave and to check up on sick certificates.
Section 23 of the BCEA states:-
(1) An employer is not required to pay an employee in terms of section 22 [Sick Leave] if the employee has been absent 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.
(2) The medical certificate must be issued and signed by a medical practitioner or any other person who is certified to diagnose and treat patients and who is registered with a professional council established by an Act of Parliament.
Certificates which are not signed by a medical doctor or ‘person certified to diagnose and treat patients and who is registered with a professional council’ are not valid. A large number of fake certificates stem from the staff of hospitals or clinics who steal certificates and then sell them to persons wishing to book off work.
An employer is not obliged to accept a certificate from a hospital or clinic, unless it is signed by a medical doctor. It is important therefore to investigate such certificates to see whether they are indeed valid.
It is also important to challenge doctors who issue certificates too readily, even if they are not fraudulent. A number of years ago one of our clients noticed that he was getting a lot of ‘very suspect’ certificates from two particular doctors. He made it a practice to phone the doctors concerned to query every certificate they issued.
The doctors were very indignant that he had the audacity to query their diagnosis and after several queries, refused to answer his calls. He then wrote them very polite letters stating that seeing that they would not answer his calls he would have little option but to refer the matter to the Health Professionals Council. That prompted a response – the doctors refused to treat anyone working for the client! Sick leave dropped accordingly!
For more information on B&A’s Managing Poor Performance and Incapacity course which covers sick leave abuse contact your local B&A office at Durban (031-3094627), Johannesburg 0861-474722, Cape Town 021-5270044, Port Elizabeth 041-3682019, Kokstad 039-7271773, Margate 039-3122698, Richards Bay 035-7531255 or click here