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We interviewed a medical doctor, and this is what he had to say about sick-leave abuse

by , 24 March 2016
In an interview with a medical doctor today, I was able to gather some very interesting information regarding sick-leave abuse.

And with a long weekend upon us, his words may have more relevance than ever.

Here's what he had to say about sick-leave abuse...


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Question#1: In your almost 30 years of experience as a medical doctor, do you believe that sick-leave abuse among employees is a fairly common occurrence in South Africa?
Definitely! Certain patients (employees) will tend to abuse sick leave

It usually comes with minor complaints, especially on a Monday or Friday.

Sometimes, employees will take off just before a long weekend, which in my opinion is an attempt to get an extra-long one, especially if this is a trend. .

Another interesting trend is when patients attempt to get sick leave in arrears. For example, they'll take Monday and Tuesday off, and they'll request a sick certificate from me on the Wednesday.

The point is that a trend develops. And if an employer notices that trend, they should investigate it.
Question#2: What do you do if you can't really find anything wrong with the patient?

Well, there are two categories us doctors use in describing the situation.

The first is 'As I have observed', which implies that it's the doctor's findings behind the sick note.

The second category is 'As I was informed' or 'According to the patient', which basically means that the doctor couldn't really find anything, and so has taken the patient's word for it. Let's take the arrears trend for example... I can't necessarily be sure that a patient was in fact sick on the Monday or the Tuesday, and so what I'll write is "As I was informed by the patient, he was sick on Monday and Tuesday..."

I'm very specific when it comes to what I write. And it's up to the employer to see this. 

Question#3: Do companies ever contact you regarding sick certificates?


And when they do, I'm more than happy to speak with them regarding the facts while still respecting patient confidentiality.

For example, it's not surprising to find that some patients, or 'employees' will be willing to forge, alter or even steal sick-note pads.

So when an employer calls me, they're more than welcome to confirm if I did in fact write it. After all, I can recognise my own handwriting, and it's pretty difficult to copy that of a doctor's (chuckles).

I once had an employee who altered (tipexed) the date on a sick certificate. These are things which I look out for when an employer contacts me. 

When I observe a sick certificate, I look at the patient's files to see if they correlate.
So what can you learn from this interview?

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1. Look for trends in an employee's absence. For example, they may take off Mondays, Fridays or just before long weekends.

2. Pay careful attention to what the doctor said on the certificate. In other words, were the contents of the certificate according to the patient or according to the doctor?

3.  If you're suspicious, phone the doctor to first of all confirm that he exists, and to confirm that he did in fact write the certificate in question. Also confirm that all the details are accurate and unchanged.

*Those were some great tips!

But there's more! Go to chapter L 05 on Sick Leave, in your Labour Law for Managers handbook to get more great tips, advice and information on how to deal with sick-leave abuse.

If you don't already have this invaluable resource, click here to order yours today. 

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