An employee walked off the job in the morning and her husband called our office to inform us that she is unwell due to stress caused by work. She then contacted our payroll department to check her sick leave balance. If she presents a medical certificate saying she is unfit for work due to stress, can we challenge the ‘stress’ reason or pass the case onto WorkCover for further investigation? Do we have to pay the employee before we see the medical certificate?
An employee can take paid personal leave where they are not fit for work because of a personal illness or injury – this includes stress leave. The evidence requirements in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) are that any evidence provided must satisfy a reasonable person. Generally, a medical certificate will be considered reasonable evidence.
To challenge the medical certificate, you would have to refuse to pay the leave as personal leave and then, if the employee brought an action against you under the FW Act, you could challenge the validity of the medical certificate. However, there is a large potential cost and risk to your company of losing such an action as there is a relatively low standard of what is considered ‘reasonable evidence of an entitlement to sick leave’ under the FW Act (being a medical certificate). If she brings a WorkCover claim, then the insurer will investigate on your behalf regardless.
You do not necessarily need to pay the employee before you see the evidence.
However, if she doesn’t provide a medical certificate for a single day of absence, this does not mean you can withhold her pay as it is not always reasonable for an employer to request a medical certificate for single day absences.
To avoid the potential for your workers to develop work-related stress conditions, we recommend you review chapter S4 Stress to make sure you are taking all reasonably practicable steps to reduce the risks.