Employers warned to be aware of sick leave obligations as unions accuse business of stepping over legal boundaries

Businesses are being warned to stay abreast of their legal obligations when it comes to managing sick leave, with a new report suggesting employers are becoming more aggressive when it comes to cracking down on faked sick days.

According to the Australian Council of Trade Unions, there has been a rise in the number of complaints about businesses actually sitting in on employees’ visits to the doctor.

But Direct Health Solutions chief executive Paul Dundon says employers need to be aware of what they can or cannot do.

“If someone has had a workplace injury, or an incident, it’s common practice for the management consultant worker or an occupational health and safety worker to assist that employee to see a doctor and go with them.”

“But for sick leave – it’s very unlikely that would be happening. I’ve never heard of that even happening at all.”

ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick told Fairfax that unions are receiving more and more complaints about workers being given false or misleading information.

”Employers, insurers and employer representatives are increasingly attending actual medical appointments with injured workers and, in some cases, forcing workers to attend company doctors.

”We’ve also had reports of doctors being pressured to change medical certificates and return-to-work plans.”

The ACTU has not differentiated whether these cases were for normal sick leave requests, or for more serious injuries. SmartCompany contacted the peak union body this morning but a reply was not received before publication.

The council alleges in one case an employee had accused a manager of contacting her doctor without her knowledge to change her medical certificate. Another claim suggests an employee was told it was policy for managers to attend appointments.

‘We are also seeing a disturbing misuse of their personal medical information by employers and third parties,” Borowick said.

But Dundon says it’s important to distinguish between regular, legal practice and illegal activity.

“If someone has a workplace injury, it’s common practice to attend that meeting, because they’ll want to receive a return to work plan and so on. That’s quite normal.”

“But if you’re going to see a doctor to talk about sick leave, you don’t have to have others attend that meeting. It’s a private consultation.”

Dundon says he is sceptical of claims that managers would want to attend these meetings, saying it’s illegal to do so.

However, he did say it’s common practice in some circumstances to speak to doctors about extended sick leave.

“That can be good practice in many circumstances, especially for extended absence. It’s common, because an employer will need to understand if there are modifications needed for the workplace to make it fit for duty.”

“You need to make sure you’re in an environment that fosters employee health and wellness, and to ensure the work is not making people sick.”

Dundon says while employers shouldn’t be pressing for contact with doctors for the odd day of sick leave, “there’s nothing wrong with doing so if the driver is something serious, like depression or mental health”.

“But the employee has to be willing, and has to provide their consent.”




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