The challenge for many employers when an employee is unwell for an extended period, is not just about knowing whether they are fit for duty, it’s also about what level of information can we ask the employee to provide on their medical certificates.
Well a recent decision from the Fair Work Commission (FWC – Tawanda Gadzika v Australian Government Department of Human Services ) , offers some valuable insights into when it may be permissible for employers to request more information.
This case involved an employee who had been on an extended period of unpaid personal leave due to mental health issues. The Department of Human Services (his employer), requested that he provide the them with proof from his medical practitioner that he was indeed fit for duty. After some delay the medical certificate was provided with the following information:
“Perform light duties” for “5 hours per day, 3 days per week”
In this circumstance many employers may feel like they have no rights in seeking further clarification as it may be interpreted to be a private matter. This could very well be the cases if you were asking for personal information of an individual’s conditions or illness. Yet, in some cases seeking details about what employees can and can’t do on their return to work may be considered appropriate. In this case the FWC agree that it was reasonable that the employer sought clarification regarding what was meant by “light duties” and how long the “light duties” should be maintained for.
Remember that above all people should be treated respectfully and with fairness and should be provided with a reasonable opportunity to provide better evidence as these are important factors that the FWC will consider in any decision they make.
Employers should also seek legal advice before rejecting a medical certificate or dismissing an employee on the basis of one that has been provided.