From industrial relations experts, TTIA

This is an evolving issue as COVID has caused less face-to-face consults and an increased need for remote doctors’ appointments. This is a result of people having to stay at home and has subsequently resulted in an increase in on-line medical certificates from your employees.

It has always been an industrial relations reality that challenging a medical certificate can only really be successful in cases of fraud or where the employee’s subsequent actions are clearly inconsistent with the reasons for the medical certificate.  If you feel an employee has supplied a false medical certificate, you can challenge them. Firstly, you need to seek permission from the employee to speak to their doctor and confirm the authenticity of the certificate. 

An employer could also challenge an employee’s medical certificate by presenting them with evidence that contradicts the information on the certificate. But be sure you appropriately gather this information. 

Keep in mind, while there are successful challenge cases, a medical certificate is generally regarded as irrefutable proof that an employee was legitimately absent.

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, a medical certificate should be issued by a registered medical practitioner. This is defined as a person who is registered or licensed as a medical practitioner with the Medical Board of Australia.

TTIA advice is to check whether the practitioner listed on your employee’s medical certificate is registered by looking them up on the Medical Board of Australia’s website

If you suspect a medical certificate is false, simply look up the doctor’s first and last name in the register – or try their medical registration number. 

It would appear to make practical sense from an industry point of view that at least an initial in-patient consultation took place before further on-line consultations and certificates were issued.  For instance, you would think some medical examinations would need to be in person to cover issues like blood pressure and other tests.  I also agree that it would also be preferable if the doctor was in the town of the employer or at least within a reasonable distance.

That said, it appears that medical certificates issued after a remote consultation are valid, provided they meet the Medical Board of Australia’s guidelines for online consultations. Employers should take a look at those guidelines. 

From my initial review, the guidelines are similar to what you’d expect from a face to face consultation, including keeping accurate records and assessing the patient’s condition appropriately.

The bottom line is it’s always our right, as an employer, to challenge a certificate if we have solid grounds, but at this point it’s an evolving legal situation and we are unaware of any such challenge before a tribunal or court giving an indication of the success or otherwise of such a move to challenge an online certificate.

One option for business could be to accept online certificates for a limited time (subject to the above guidelines being met) while Covid-19 is a significant workplace issue and physically seeing a doctor can be problematic and review the practice at the appropriate time in the future.

TTIA will continue to provide more information regarding online medical certificates in the future as the case law evolves on this issue.

From industrial relations experts, TTIA

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