Sick letters or fake letters?

corien newsletter depiction.inddThis article deals with medical certificates and whether or not an employee is justified in taking the day off for an “illness”.

Angela informed her employer on Monday morning that she would be staying at home as she felt very sick and was unable to do her work in her condition. Angela only decided on Wednesday that she would go to the doctor because she knew she would be returning to work on Thursday, and therefore needed a medical certificate from the doctor so that her work would not deduct the money from her salary. However, Angela had a surprise waiting for her.

In terms of Rule 15(1) of the Ethical and Professional Rules of the Medical and Dental Professions Board of the Health Professions Council of South Africa a practitioner shall only grant a certificate of illness if such certificate contains the following information:

  • the name, address and qualification of the practitioner;
  • the name of the patient;
  • the employment number of the patient (if applicable);
  • the date and time of the examination;
  • whether the certificate is being issued as a result of personal observations by the practitioner during an examination, or as the result of information received from the patient and which is based on acceptable medical grounds;
  • a description of the illness, disorder or malady in layman's terminology, with the informed consent of the patient, provided that if the patient is not prepared to give such consent, the medical practitioner or dentist shall merely specify that, in his or her opinion based on an examination of the patient, the patient is unfit to work;
  • whether the patient is totally indisposed for duty or whether the patient is able to perform less strenuous duties in the work situation;
  • the exact period of recommended sick leave;
  • the date of issuing of the certificate of illness; and
  • a clear indication of the identity of the practitioner who issued the certificate which shall be personally and originally signed by him or her next to his or her initials and surname in printed or block letters.

If preprinted stationery is used, a practitioner shall delete words which are irrelevant. A practitioner shall issue a brief factual report to a patient where such a patient requires information concerning himself/herself.

The above is largely self-explanatory. Subrule (e) refers to those occasions where, for example, the employee has been off sick on Monday and Tuesday and then on Wednesday he goes to the doctor and informs the doctor that he has had flu since Monday and requires a sick note. The doctor is then required to write in the sick note, “I was informed by the patient that …”

An employer does not have to accept this as a genuine illness. The doctor is only telling you that the patient says he was ill. The doctor is not certifying that he made an examination and is able to confirm the illness. You would therefore be perfectly justified in informing the employee that the time taken off will be regarded as unpaid leave and that in future he should visit the doctor when he falls ill and not after he has recovered from the alleged illness.

Unfortunately for Angela her employer recently read an article informing him of his rights to deduct money from her salary because she failed to come to work on Monday and Tuesday and only went to see the doctor on Wednesday, and there was no way of ascertaining that she definitely was ill on those days.

In light of the above it would be wise for employees to see the doctor on the same day that they feel ill, and for employers to insist on seeing the medical certificate and examining it properly.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Does the service of a notice of joinder interrupt prescription?

corien newsletter depiction.inddIn the recent judgment of Peter Taylor & Associates v Bell Real Estates and Renasa Insurance Company the Supreme Court of Appeal was requested to decide whether the court of first instance was correct in deciding that the service of a notice of joinder interrupted prescription.

The relevant sections of the Prescription Act provide as follows:

  • Section 15(1) – The running of prescription shall, subject to the provisions of subsection (2), be interrupted by the service on the debtor of any process whereby the creditor claims payment of debt.
  • Section 15(6) – For the purposes of this section, ”process” includes a petition, a notice of motion, a rule nisi, a pleading in reconvention, a third party notice referred to in any rule of court, and any document whereby legal proceedings are commenced.
  • Section 15(5) deals with the situation that is applicable where a person applies to be joined as a defendant in an action and provides as follows that if any person is joined as a defendant on his own application, the process whereby the creditor claims payment of the debt, shall be deemed to have been served on such person on the date of joinder.

In the Peter Taylor matter the Plaintiff was seeking to join a further defendant in terms of Rule 10(3) of the court rules. The court referred to various matters pointing out the opposing positions held by our courts. The crisp point on which the court relied for prescription to be interrupted was the question of whether the process served can be considered as a step in the enforcement of a claim for payment of a debt. The court held that it would be “stretching the interpretation of the Act a little too far to say that the application constitutes a ‘process’ whereby the creditor claims payment of the debt” and that its service thereof interrupted prescription. The Court found that it could not be said that the joinder application finally disposed of some elements of the claim and also that cause of action in the joinder applications differed from the cause of action for damages that was initially pleaded.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Are there limitations on ownership rights?

corien newsletter depiction.inddIt is a recognised principle of property law that ownership does not confer absolute and unlimited entitlement on the owner, but that various limitations exist in the interest of the community and for the benefit of other people.

The most important limitation on the owner in the interest of the community as a whole is the payment of taxes to the state in respect of certain movable and immovable property. In the case of immovable property several measures make land available to a larger section of the community, which implies that the restitution of land rights and the provision of land will require measures for expropriation. Furthermore, a number of provisions deal with environmental conservation and physical planning which limit the owner’s entitlement in the interest of the community. Limiting measures in the case of moveable property prohibit the use of such property to the detriment of the community, for instance motor vehicles, fire-arms and dependence-producing substances.

There are also measures which limit the owner’s entitlement, not in the interest of the community, but in the interest of other individuals. The best known example in this case is neighbour law, which implies that the owner may not use his land in such a way that it constitutes an unreasonable burden on his neighbours. The criterion of reasonableness determines that, in these circumstances, the owner of immovable property may exercise his entitlements within reasonable bounds, and that the neighbouring owner or occupier must tolerate the owner’s exercise of his entitlements within reasonable bounds.

Other examples of the application of the criterion of reasonableness in the case of neighbour law are the obligation to lateral and surface support, measures dealing with encroachments, the mutual obligation regarding the natural flow of water and the elimination of danger.

Other people besides the owner may acquire entitlements (for instance use rights) in respect of the moveable or immovable property of the owner. Holders of limited real rights acquire entitlements in respect of the asset, which limits the owner’s ownership (dominium) as they burden the property. It is therefore enforceable against the owner and his successors in title. Certain creditors’ rights may also result in people acquiring entitlements in respect of the owner’s property. These rights are, however, only enforceable against the owner personally and do not burden the property as such, therefore it is not enforceable against successors in title.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

The sequestration process

corien newsletter depiction.inddThe sequestration process involves a Court Application. The Applicant in the Application is either yourself for your own sequestration (voluntary surrender) or the Applicant is one of your creditors (either a friendly or aggressive creditor). The applications are similar and although there are some different requirements for each, the result is the same.

Voluntary surrender

Voluntary surrender refers to the process whereby a natural person can make an application to place him/herself under an order for sequestration.

A person is insolvent if his/her liabilities exceed his/her assets. In such a case he/she can apply for voluntary surrender of their estate. Anybody can apply for voluntary surrender at any stage as soon as he/she is insolvent, even if they have been or are under debt counselling, for example.

The person who wants to sequestrate him/herself, will depose to an Affidavit which explains why he/she claims he/she is insolvent. This will be drafted by the Attorneys who will bring the application on behalf of the Applicant. As soon as the Affidavit is signed, the application will be issued at Court and a Court date is assigned. The Applicant does not have to appear in Court as the Advocate appears on his/her behalf.

If the Court grants a provisional order on the first Court date, the matter will be postponed for approximately one month. During that month notice will be given to all creditors, and if on the return date no-one has opposed the application, the order will be finalised and the Applicant’s estate will be sequestrated.

Compulsory sequestration

Applications are also made by way of a Court application; however, in this case the Applicant will be a creditor of the debtor. If it is a creditor with whom the debtor does not have a good relationship, we refer to it as an “aggressive” sequestration (for example the bank).

However, the banks seldom bring sequestration applications against the average debtor as it is much cheaper and easier for them to follow the collection procedures: attach property and sell it and/or attach your salary.

If it is a creditor with whom the debtor has a good relationship, we refer to it as a “friendly” sequestration (for example a family member or a friend to whom you owe money).

Aggressive (“unfriendly”) sequestration

Where an unfriendly creditor brings a sequestration application against a debtor, we refer to it as an aggressive sequestration. It is also a forced sequestration as opposed to voluntary surrender.

The creditor who brings the application must have established a claim against the debtor; in other words, the debtor must indeed owe the creditor money. A second requirement is that there must also be a benefit to creditors. Thirdly, the debtor must have committed an act of insolvency.

If a creditor brings an aggressive application against a debtor, the debtor can oppose such an application if he/she is not insolvent or if there is another reason why the order should not be granted.

Process for “unfriendly” and “friendly” sequestrations

The process for both these applications is the same and it is only the Applicant that differs.

As with voluntary surrender, an Affidavit will be given by the creditor to explain why he avows that the debtor owes him/her money. He will attach proof thereof (contract/statement) and also proof that the debtor has committed an act of insolvency (where the debtor has written a letter to say that he/she cannot pay the debt). In both instances the Applicant must prove that there will be a benefit to creditors to have the debtor sequestrated.

Once the Affidavit has been signed, the necessary documentation will be drafted, issued at Court and a Court date assigned. As soon as this is done, the documents will be served on the debtor, employees of the debtor, Master of the High Court and the South African Revenue Services by the Sheriff. The provisional order should also be given to all creditors above R5 000.00 by way of registered post. If the application is not opposed, a final order will be made for the sequestration of the debtor/Applicant.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)