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)

Can I still make a case of unfair labour practice if I have settled?

corien newsletter depiction.inddIn this article we will discuss whether, in the face of an agreement between an employer and an employee in terms of which an employee accepts a demotion to a lower position, the employee is nevertheless entitled to refer an unfair labour practice dispute concerning this demotion to the CCMA.

The facts in Builders Warehouse (Pty) Ltd v Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and Others[1] can be summarised as follows: The employee worked as an Administrative Manager at Builders Warehouse (Pty) Ltd. She was informed by doctors that she was very ill and would most likely have to go to hospital frequently and take various types of medication. Over the next three years her absenteeism increased significantly and her employers became concerned as she was no longer able to do her job effectively, even when she was not absent, due to the side effects of her medication. Builders Warehouse (Pty) Ltd, after having discussions with the employee, suspended her pending an investigation into her capacity to undertake the functions of an Administrative Manager, taking into account her health and performance. Builders Warehouse (Pty) Ltd held an incapacity hearing and the external Chairperson ruled that, due to the employee’s excessive and increasing absenteeism, dismissal was the appropriate sanction. The Chairperson, however, offered her a demotion instead of a dismissal. The employee accepted this demotion in writing.

After this agreement between Builders Warehouse (Pty) Ltd and the employee was concluded, she obtained legal assistance and subsequently complained to the CCMA that Builders Warehouse (Pty) Ltd had committed an unfair labour practice by demoting her.

The question here is whether, in the face of an agreement between Builders Warehouse (Pty) Ltd in terms of which the employee accepted demotion to a lower position, she was nevertheless entitled to refer an unfair labour practice dispute concerning this demotion to the CCMA.[2]

The arbitrator in the CCMA decided that because there was consent to the demotion, the CCMA did not have jurisdiction to hear the dispute. The employee then appealed to the Labour Court and once again to the Labour Appeal Court, of which the outcomes are set out below.

The Labour Court and the Labour Appeal Court looked at Section 186(2)(a) of the Labour Relations Act[3] in this regard, which states the following:

“Unfair labour practice means any unfair act or omission that arises between an employer and an employee involving –

Unfair conduct by the employer relating to the promotion, demotion, probation (excluding disputes about dismissals for a reason relating to probation) or training of an employee or relating to the provision of benefits.”

The Labour Appeal Court upheld the judgement in the Labour Court and found that although a binding contract comes into existence when employers and employees settle their differences by agreement, such an agreement does not mean that the CCMA does not have jurisdiction to hear the dispute. The fact that the parties have agreed that the employee accepts demotion is not a complete defence for the employer because the ambit of this unfair labour practice is wide enough to include the implementation of an agreement to accept demotion.[4] The Labour Appeal Court confirmed that the determination of whether a demotion took place, unlike the determination of dismissal, does not require an arbitrator to determine if there was consent or not.[5]

In conclusion, it is clear from the Builders Warehouse case that, although consent is a relevant issue in regard to the merits of a dispute regarding an unfair labour practice, it is not a jurisdictional prerequisite. This means that the CCMA does have the power to hear a matter relating to a demotion even though there was consent thereto.

Bibliography

  • Builders Warehouse (Pty) Ltd v Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and Others (PA 1/14) [2015] ZALAC
  • Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995

[1] (PA 1/14) [2015] ZALAC.

[2] (PA 1/14) [2015] ZALAC Par 12.

[3] Act 66 of 1995.

[4] Builders Warehouse (Pty) Ltd v Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration

[5] Builders Warehouse (Pty) Ltd v Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and Others (PA 1/14) [2015] ZALAC Par 13.

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)

What constitutes fair dismissal?

corien newsletter depiction.inddLabour law emphasises that every employee has the right not to be dismissed unfairly. This law defines the meaning of dismissal and when it may lawfully occur. Substantive and procedural fairness determines whether the dismissal was fair.

Dismissal means the following: The termination of a contract of employment with or without notice, and also if the employer fails to provide a fixed-term contract, or he does renew the contract, but on less favourable terms than the employee had reasonably expected.

Section 188 of the Labour Relations Act provides that dismissal is fair if the employer can prove that the dismissal is related to the employee’s conduct or capacity, or if it can be proven that the dismissal is based on the employer’s operational requirements. Dismissal is usually fair if a fair procedure was followed. Good practices are set out in legislation which outlines the discharge processes and must be taken into account.

Labour legislation provides for three different types of discharge, namely dismissal due to misconduct, poor performance or operational requirements. Certain procedures must be followed for each type of discharge. Employers sometimes confuse misconduct with poor performance. It is very important that the correct procedure is followed, but it is also necessary that the cause of the unsatisfactory behaviour is determined.

Misconduct is when the employee has violated certain rules such as rules against dishonesty or theft, or has refused to obey reasonable and lawful instructions. In these situations the employee has decided not to honour the code of conduct. The employee has knowingly violated a rule and therefore the person should be disciplined. This may result in written warnings and/or possible dismissal.

In contrast, poor performance involves situations where the employee is not in deliberate violation of any regulations but it may involve circumstances over which the employee may not necessarily have control. In this case other factors could be the cause of poor performance, such as lack of resources, inexperience, inadequate training or poor health. It is clear that the employee is not directly responsible for the behaviour and therefore disciplinary actions cannot be taken. The employee cannot be blamed for something like illness, therefore a counselling process is followed in lieu of a disciplinary hearing in order to find solutions for the poor performance.

The last type of dismissal is due to operational requirements. This type of discharge has to do with economic conditions, including a shortage of work or a lack of money. These are cases where the employer can no longer afford to retain a certain number of employees or new computers or sophisticated equipment have been acquired which renders a number of employees redundant. These are factors beyond the control of the employee and involves steps that the employer takes to protect his or her business from being ruined financially.

It is very important that the process contained in section 189 of the Labour Relations Act be followed here. This process requires the employer to engage with the employee in a meaningful way in order to negotiate and disclose certain information before dismissal can take place.

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.