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3 common questions about sick leave answered

August 12, 2016

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The Telephone Advisory Service at HR Assured receives many interesting questions concerning sick leave.

Clients are generally aware of the entitlement to sick leave and the circumstances in which it can be taken. But life can sometimes throw up an unusual situation and tricky questions can arise.

When life throws a curve ball, our clients are relieved to know that they have 24/7 access to experienced workplace relations consultants that they can rely upon.

Question 1: Can sick leave be used for a pre-booked surgery?

Answer: Yes.

The Fair Work Act provides that an employee can take Personal / Carer’s leave when he or she is either unfit for work, or required to care for a member of their immediate family or household.

An employee undergoing a pre-booked procedure is generally entitled to use their sick leave, so long as they are unfit for work. An exception would be an appointment or consultation that occurs pre-surgery. If the employee is not unfit for work then you can direct the employee to either use their accrued paid annual leave or request unpaid sick leave.

Remember, you can request medical evidence stating that the employee was or will be unfit for work each time a worker requests to take sick leave.

Question 2: Can sick leave be used to care for a sick boyfriend or girlfriend?

Answer: No.

Sick leave can be used to provide care or support to a member of the employee’s immediate family or household. The definition of ‘immediate family’ is broad. This generally includes a spouse, de facto partner, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild or sibling of an employee; as well as a child, grandparent, grandchild or sibling of the employee’s spouse or de facto partner.

While broadly defined, the term ‘immediate family’ generally does not extend to a boyfriend or girlfriend relationship. Of course, an exception to this would be if the two individuals are living together, or are in a de facto relationship.

Question 3: Can I question or dismiss a medical certificate?

Answer: It depends.

Generally speaking, an employer cannot question or dismiss a valid medical certificate that has been provided by a qualified medical practitioner.

There are, however, some situations in which an employer may have sufficient grounds to question the validity of a medical certificate. One such situation is where the certificate appears to have been fraudulently altered or varied. You may also be able to question a medical certificate where there is evidence that the employee was not sick or injured at the particular time (eg; holiday snaps on social media).

In both cases, the employer may contact the medical practitioner who issue the certificate and question its validity. But a cautious approach should be adopted as it is the medical practitioner who is the expert on illness and injury, not the employer.

For more information on the recommendations and what this means for you, clients should contact the HR Assured team. If you’d like more information about the benefits of becoming an HR Assured client contact us today for an informal chat.