Sick notes: Query them with caution

by Stephanie Zillman21 Mar 2012

Employers are warned to tread carefully when questioning the truth of employees’ medical certificates, after the medical association issued a stern reminder that patient confidentiality precludes providing details of illness.

When embattled politician Craig Thomson took sick leave from parliament this week, and submitted a medical certificate from his doctor, chief opposition whip Warren Entsch demanded more details. “It's quite vague in that it says he's got abdominal pain,” Entsch said. He added “tummy aches can come and go” and said the opposition would demand a new and detailed diagnosis before Craig Thomson would be granted leave from Parliament from tomorrow to Thursday. [In parliament, the opposing party grants a ‘pairing’ which allows two MPs from opposing parties to agree to abstain when one member is unable to vote.]

But the Australian Medical Association weighed in on the sick leave controversy, and Steve Hambleton said medical certificates don’t have to contain a diagnosis, and they are a certified legal document. “The medical practitioner stakes his reputation on the document he supplies. There are circumstances where employers might want to know more. If that is the case, it needs to be with the permission of the patient,” he said.

Hambleton added that if a doctor knowingly made out a false certificate, they could be subject to civil and criminal penalties.


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  • by Wendy 21/03/2012 4:06:10 PM

    In my experience it has been a limited number of doctors who write out sickness certificates after seeing the patient days or weeks later. I have called the doctors to query their issuing of certificates and have no hesitation contacting the AMA to report what I might see as rogue doctors.

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