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Sick Letters Or Fake Letters?

This article deals with medical certificates and whether or not an employee is justified in taking the day off for an “illness”. 

Angela informed her employer on Monday morning that she would be staying at home as she felt very sick and was unable to do her work in her condition. Angela only decided on Wednesday that she would go to the doctor because she knew she would be returning to work on Thursday, and therefore needed a medical certificate from the doctor so that her work would not deduct the money from her salary. However, Angela had a surprise waiting for her. 

In terms of Rule 15(1) of the Ethical and Professional Rules of the Medical and Dental Professions Board of the Health Professions Council of South Africa a practitioner shall only grant a certificate of illness if such certificate contains the following information:


  • the name, address and qualification of the practitioner;
  • the name of the patient;
  • the employment number of the patient (if applicable);
  • the date and time of the examination;
  • whether the certificate is being issued as a result of personal observations by the practitioner during an examination, or as the result of information received from the patient and which is based on acceptable medical grounds;
  • a description of the illness, disorder or malady in layman's terminology, with the informed consent of the patient, provided that if the patient is not prepared to give such consent, the medical practitioner or dentist shall merely specify that, in his or her opinion based on an examination of the patient, the patient is unfit to work;
  • whether the patient is totally indisposed for duty or whether the patient is able to perform less strenuous duties in the work situation;
  • the exact period of recommended sick leave;
  • the date of issuing of the certificate of illness; and
  • a clear indication of the identity of the practitioner who issued the certificate which shall be personally and originally signed by him or her next to his or her initials and surname in printed or block letters.

If preprinted stationery is used, a practitioner shall delete words which are irrelevant. A practitioner shall issue a brief factual report to a patient where such a patient requires information concerning himself/herself. 

The above is largely self-explanatory. Subrule (e) refers to those occasions where, for example, the employee has been off sick on Monday and Tuesday and then on Wednesday he goes to the doctor and informs the doctor that he has had flu since Monday and requires a sick note. The doctor is then required to write in the sick note, “I was informed by the patient that ...” 

An employer does not have to accept this as a genuine illness. The doctor is only telling you that the patient says he was ill. The doctor is not certifying that he made an examination and is able to confirm the illness. You would therefore be perfectly justified in informing the employee that the time taken off will be regarded as unpaid leave and that in future he should visit the doctor when he falls ill and not after he has recovered from the alleged illness. 

Unfortunately for Angela her employer recently read an article informing him of his rights to deduct money from her salary because she failed to come to work on Monday and Tuesday and only went to see the doctor on Wednesday, and there was no way of ascertaining that she definitely was ill on those days. 

In light of the above it would be wise for employees to see the doctor on the same day that they feel ill, and for employers to insist on seeing the medical certificate and examining it properly.


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