Employers are being warned that major pharmacy outlets are now offering “absence from work” forms, making it possible for your staff to get a medical certificate without visiting a real doctor.
The forms can cost anywhere from $5 to $25, and are being increasingly used by employees to validate absences from work, and unless companies set out clear policies surrounding the certificates, there is not much that bosses can do about them.
In addition, there are online services that also offer medical certificates without the patient having to ever attend a consultation.
The Australian Industry Group Chief Executive Innes Willox told news.com.au that some bosses would be sceptical of notes from a chain store pharmacy.
“Many employers are likely to take the view that they are not satisfied with certificates obtained from pharmacists,” he said.
A pharmacist has the authority to issue the certificates, so long as they are for conditions that are within their scope of practice, which means anything more serious than a cold or flu, they will have to send the patient to a doctor.
The cannot issue the forms for conditions related to pregnancy and nor can they authorise return to work certificates.
The Fair Work Act states that: “A pharmacist’s certificate has to be able to ‘satisfy a reasonable person’ of the relevant condition necessitating an absence from work,” but it doesn’t have to mention the ailment the person is suffering from.
Currently, the retail chain Chemist Warehouse is promoting the absence from work forms for a fee of $20.
Miles Heffernan from Employer Advisors warned that unless companies have very clear policies in place that deal with pharmacy-issued medical certificates, there is not much they can do about them.
“If you’re a boss, and one of your workers comes in after a day off work with one of these sick notes from their local chemist, you have to accept it, unless there are specific standards around taking sick leave set out in the worker’s award or contract,” he said.
Absenteeism currently costs the Australian economy $44 billion, and much of that is due to workers taking sick leave.
The hospitality industry has the highest absenteeism rates, with more than 11 days a year compared with the average of 9.5 days a year.
Employer Advisors warns against taking any adverse action against an employee who presents with a pharmacy-issued absence from work form.
“If you discipline or sack a worker who hands over one of these notes, you open yourself up to not only a claim of unfair dismissal, but you could also be facing accusations of unlawful dismissal, involving discrimination and adverse actions involving general protections,” Mr Heffernan said.
A website called “Qoctor” was launched in 2015 offering medical certificates sent by email, after a video conference consultation, all for the cost of just $20.
The website’s chief executive said at the time of the launch that most of the users were “honest and trustworthy”.
Mr Willox said such services were “a concern”.
“For obvious reasons, in most cases a doctor will be unable to conclude that a person is genuinely sick without having any physical contact with the person,” he said.
“Employees would be wise to not use such services.”
Mr Heffernan from Employer Advisors said the best thing skeptical bosses can do to stop their employees using these sorts of services is to seek expert industrial relations advice as soon as possible, to help you formulate clear workplace policies.
“You need to make clear to everyone who works for you that the only form of acceptable evidence for being absent due to illness is a medical certificate from a doctor – a real doctor,” he said.
“But the wisest thing to do is seek expert advice as soon as possible to help guide you through the best way to do that.”
To read more about this please click here to visit our Industrial Relations Claims website.
If you are having trouble managing staff in relation to absenteeism or illness, or suspicious medical certificates, please call our experts at Employer Advisors today on 1300 853 837, and we can offer you confidential advice about your options.
To keep up to date with the latest news and information, please follow our main Industrial Relations Claims page on Facebook.