With winter in full swing, it seems like there’s always a virus ‘going around’. Inevitably, as a result, many businesses will feel the effects of having more employees away sick at this time of year. While most employers are familiar with accruing and paying out sick leave, there are many myths and misunderstandings around the obligations of employers and the requirements for employee’s claiming sick leave.

Sick leave, also known as personal / carer’s leave, is paid leave for days off, that your permanent employees are entitled to receive when unwell or injured and not able to work. Permanent full-time employees are entitled to a minimum of 10 days (2 weeks) of paid sick leave per year and part-timers get a percentage of that based on the number of hours they work.

What is carer’s leave?

Carer’s leave covers an employee who genuinely needs to care for an immediate family or household member, due to that person having an illness or injury. Carer’s leave comes out of the same balance as the 2 weeks of sick leave and the same conditions apply as if the employee themselves were unable to work due to illness or injury.

Requesting medical certificates

Its a common myth that employers can only request a medical certificate from employees for 2 or more consecutive days off.

In fact, employers may request employees to provide a medical certificate for any amount of time requested as personal/sick leave, for as little as 1 day or less off work, regardless of the day of the week. Its best to be consistent here to ensure no one person feels singled out, and have in place a policy that covers expectations around providing evidence for sick leave.

Suitable forms of evidence

It is a myth that employees must provide a medical certificate. In fact, there are likely other forms of evidence that can be provided, and there are actually no strict rules around the forms of evidence that can be accepted. Whatever evidence is given though, must be able to convince a reasonable person that the employee was genuinely unfit for work due to illness or injury.

Generally, both medical certificates and statutory declarations are acceptable forms of evidence. Medical certificates from a pharmacy may not be accepted, unless the professional issuing the certificate is a GP or practising medical professional.

If an employee is not able to provide evidence when asked, they may not be entitled to be paid for their days off, and would need to take unpaid leave instead of paid sick leave.

Are all medical appointments covered by sick leave?

Any pre-arranged appointments or elective procedures are only covered by sick leave if they’re related to an illness or injury that means the employee is unable to work that day. So, if an employee needs to see a doctor for a check-up, a scheduled follow up appointment, or to discuss a cosmetic or elective procedure, but could otherwise be at work, then they’re not entitled to sick leave under the Fair Work Act. This applies to carer’s leave as well.  If they need to attend a scheduled or pre-arranged appointment during normal work hours, the employee should apply to take annual leave, giving the required notice for this, and the employer shouldn’t unreasonably refuse this.

But what if they don’t look sick?

Employees are not required to explain a medical condition to their employer, and we all know that some illnesses are less visible or obvious than others. This is why it’s important that businesses have policies and clear expectations around suitable evidence being required for all absences where sick leave is requested.

If the appointment is with a medical professional, the employee will be able to provide a certificate to confirm they are unfit for work due to being unwell or injured.

If you want to know the best way to manage employees that seem to be always calling in sick, check out our article on dealing with this.

Need help putting in place policies covering leave, or want some assistance clarifying sick leave entitlements for your employees? Get in touch with our team today.