Registered doctors are best positioned to issue medical and doctor’s certificates under the National Employment Standards (NES)
A medical certificate is regarded as irrefutable proof that an employee is legitimately absent from work because of the stated illness or injury or for compassionate leave related to the legitimate care of a loved one or family member. For an employee to take personal, carer or compassionate leave, an employee must, if required, provide evidence that would satisfy a reasonable person of their entitlement to take the relevant leave - whether the leave is paid or unpaid.
Satisfactory evidence may vary from a medical certificate for a single day’s absence, to evidence from a suitably qualified registered professional relevant to the employee’s illness or injury. If an employer wishes to challenge a medical certificate, they can, this is within their discretion to do so. However for an employer to challenge an employee they should have reasonable grounds to doubt the legitimacy of the claims made within the medical certificate provided. For an employer to do this it would normally entail the employer requesting a second medical opinion from a qualified medical practitioner in relation to the employee's state of health.
s12 of the Fair Work Act 2009 defines the term medical practitioner to mean a person registered, or licensed as a medical practitioner under a law of a state or territory that provides for registration or licensing of medical practitioners. Interestingly however, it is not used in the context of the evidence requirements under s107 of the Fair Work Act 2009. If an employee cannot comply with the documentation requirements due to circumstances beyond his or her control, the employee will not have breached the Standard. Nonetheless, the employer may still request evidence relating to and supporting the employees leave request or absence. So while an employee may not have complied with the employer's documentation requests (at least initially), it does not preclude the requirement from the employee to present a legitimate certificate from a qualified and recognised medical practitioner in order to satisfy the employers requirement to show evidence in support of the leave claim and any entitlement.
Doctors: Trained, Registered & Recognised to issue Medical Certificates
Whether an employer accepts a personal or carer’s leave certificate from a person other than a medical practitioner will depend on whether the employer considers the certificate to be reasonable given the particular circumstances surrounding the absence - again the employers judgment should be measured by that of a reasonable person.
The previous Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard 2005 (AFPCS) had listed a number of professions which could sign a personal or carer’s leave certificate. Such a list no longer appears in the National Employment Standards. Given the absence of any list setting out the professionals who could verify, authorise and sign a personal or carer’s leave certificate. It would now appear reasonable to assume that a medical practitioner is best positioned to assess and provide evidence relating to health and to assess and certify the personal circumstances surrounding a personal or carer's leave request and certificate.
In addition, a relevant, if not critical factor in determining the quality and authenticity of the certificate, its provision and its legitimacy relates directly to whether the provider of the certificate belongs to a professional group or body requiring official registration, competency certification and industry recognition. A registered doctor or medical practitioner is recognised by their professional body through ongoing (and in many cases annual) certification, ongoing training and skills development.
In this context, a GP, doctor or medical practitioner would meet the requirement of belonging to a professional group where official registration, competency recognition and minimum performance standards must be met and maintained for ongoing professional membership and association. In addition, GP's, doctors and all medical practitioners are bound to observe their respective professional code of ethics and conduct as required and set out for them in order to practice by their registered professional bodies. Breaching these codes of conduct may result in penalties, bans and professional disqualification.