Sick leave: The headache continues
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 5, 30 July 2021, page no.12
The pandemic, lockdowns, and an increased focus on staying home when you are unwell
has heightened the need to understand your sick leave provisions.
Unless you are undergoing a formal performance management process or have had attendance concerns raised with you directly, you are only required to provide a certificate/medical documentation if your sick leave absence is greater than three days. The same applies to carer’s leave. Carer’s leave and sick leave are deducted from the same sick leave accrual/balance.
The Sick Leave Directive (06/20) reads: “8.3 An application for sick leave of more than three (3) days is to be supported by documentation acceptable to the chief executive.”
And therein lies the tension between the current provisions as set out by the employer, the Department of Education. There is no requirement for documentation/medical certificate if your absence is on either side of a mid-year vacation, a public holiday, or a pupil free day.
Further, you will note it does not state medical certificate, but documentation acceptable to the chief executive.
The department’s current Leave Entitlement Guidelines read: “For any sick leave application of more than three days, an employee is required to provide acceptable documentation (i.e. a doctor’s certificate) about the nature of the illness and the approximate time period for which the employee will be absent.”
We have had queries about the nature of the documentation required, and currently the department does not have a clear policy that it must be a medical certificate – but I would recommend that, if possible, that is what you should provide.
It can be hard getting to a doctor when you need to, particularly if you live rurally and remotely, so other options are available, including certificates issued by pharmacists.
Disappointingly, the QTU recently had to support a member who provided a letter from a physio outlining the nature of illness and absence from work after intense treatment (following a referral from the GP), only to be told at the school level this was insufficient. Common sense needs to prevail. Members should not have to incur additional personal cost, or waste doctors’ time seeking a certificate, when other suitable documentation was provided, following a doctor’s advice.
The QTU, following detailed legal advice, has asked the department to seek Crown Law advice on the wording of their requirement for the documentation to cite “the nature of the illness”. We are awaiting further information. We believe that the treating medical practitioner is best placed to determine if, and when, the employer needs to know the nature of the condition or illness. Clearly, where there is a requirement for workplace adjustments, health and safety considerations, or a duty of care, the doctor will provide the required information, and Organisational Health have specific forms and processes for this.
The QTU has also received member enquiries following requests for medical clearance prior to returning to work following a sick leave absence. While such requests should be anticipated following periods of extended sick leave – particularly if the department has genuine concerns about the readiness to return to duty and has a duty of care – they can occur even after short absences. Given the many grey areas, there are no hard and fast policies, and each case is considered on its own factors. That said, if members are concerned about requests for medical clearance, please contact us for further, individual advice.
The department’s Workplace Rehabilitation procedure v4.2 states: “The decision about whether a clearance certificate is required will be based on an assessment of the risk of the injury/illness being aggravated at work.”
It goes on to cite the following examples of when a clearance medical certificate may be required.
- The employee’s absence from work has been the subject of an accepted WorkCover claim
- The employee has participated in a return to work, or maintain at work program
- The employee has had an extended absence (3 months or more in the past 12 months) from work due to a medical condition
- The nature of the employee’s injury/illness is such that there is a possibility that their work may aggravate the condition.
For more on the many ongoing and widely circulated myths associated with accessing your sick leave entitlement, read this Journal article from last year.