Fighting fit: when can employers reject a medical certificate?

A recent decision by the Fair Work Commission in Tawanda Gadzikwa v Australian Government Department of Human Services [2018] FWC 4878, has confirmed that employers are entitled to reject employees’ medical certificates when they are too vague to enable the proper discharge of basic legal obligations.

The matter heard by the Commission in this case involved an employee who had been on extended unpaid personal leave due to a mental health condition. When the employee was due to return to work, he was advised he would need to provide his employer with proof of his fitness for duty.

The employee provided a two-line medical certificate from his treating practitioner, stating he was fit to perform “light duties”.

The employer terminated the employee following an argumentative and incomplete response to a follow-up request for further specifics.

The employee brought a claim for unfair dismissal alleging, among other things, that the information he provided was sufficient evidence of his fitness.

Deputy President Colman rejected the unfair dismissal claim and found  the employee had failed to provide proper medical clearance at the conclusion of his authorised leave because the medical certificate:

  • did not specify the nature of the duties the employee was and was not fit to perform ;
  • omitted any reasons for the employee being fit for work in circumstances where the same doctor and another doctor had previously concluded that the employee was unfit for work;
  • did not describe the necessary length of time for any modified working arrangements or a date when the employee could return to his substantive position; and
  • was submitted two weeks late.

This case is one of a number of cases which highlight that employers should reject medical certificates which do not provide sufficient information to enable proper protection of an employee’s health and safety at work.

However, employees must be afforded a reasonable opportunity to provide better evidence, and decisions to terminate or take other disciplinary action should be never be taken hastily.

Furthermore, all surrounding communications with employees must be clear, courteous and supportive to reduce the risk of successful claims.

Employers should seek legal advice before rejecting an invalid medical certificate or dismissing an employee on the basis of one provided.

Macpherson Kelley’s Employment, Safety and Migration team have extensive experience advising clients in relation to leave requirements, fitness for work and reducing the risk of potential claims.

Contact George Haros or Luke Gattuso,  or another member of our Employment, Safety and Migration team if you would like further information or advice.

This article was written by Stella Gehrckens, Graduate Lawyer – Employment, Safety and Migration.