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Frequently asked questions and Busting myths

Question: What should I look for on medical certificates from health practitioners?

Answer:

The usual requirements for a medical certificate are:

  • Name and address of the medical practitioner issuing the certificate
  • Name of the patient
  • Date on which the examination took place
  • Date on which the certificate was issued
  • Date(s) on which the patient is or was unfit for attendance
  • Any restrictions applicable to the employee’s work (e.g. to hours or functions)
  • Supplementary information of assistance to the patient in obtaining the appropriate leave especially where there is a discrepancy in the period for which the certificate is issued and the date of the certificate.

Question: What other forms of documentary evidence are considered acceptable in place of a medical certificate?

Answer:

This will vary among agencies—refer to your agency enterprise agreement or policy.

Question: Are the evidence requirements different for carer’s leave?

Answer:

This will vary among agencies—refer to your agency enterprise agreement or policy.

Question: Are there circumstances that allow for an employee not to provide evidence?

Answer:

First check your agency’s policy and enterprise agreement to clarify when evidence is normally required. Managers should seek guidance from their Human Resources area if and when a situation arises.

Question: Can I contact the employee’s registered health practitioner?

Answer:

Under privacy legislation, an employee’s health and/or illness is regarded as both personal and sensitive information and requires the employee’s explicit consent before a registered health practitioner can disclose or discuss an employee’s medical condition.

Contact your Human Resources area for advice if you are concerned about the validity of a certificate or require more information to confidently approve the leave.

Note it is the employee’s responsibility to provide satisfactory proof to have absences authorised.

Contact with an employee’s registered health practitioner is best managed through Human Resources areas and professional case managers.

Question: What should be my general approach when an employee states an absence/s is due to a generic or recurrent condition?

Answer:

After showing concern, always aim to link it back to work—what can be done at work to assist the employee to return as soon as possible or to safely work through these periods. Given the recurring nature of the condition, options can be planned in advance. For example, consider alternative work arrangements, workplace modifications, and change of duties or alternative leave arrangements. In some cases, the employee may need to be managed in accordance with fitness for duty policy.

Question: What does an employee’s workplace stress level have to do with me?

Answer:

The injury impact and cost of psychological injury claims constitute the highest of any compensation type because they usually involve extended periods of time off work, and higher medical, legal and other claim payments. Workplace influences, including management style, have been found to be significant contributing factors.

Question: What if I suspect an employee has a second job?

Answer:

Having a second job is generally acceptable but be sure to check your agency’s relevant policy. If the second job is impacting on the employee’s ability to perform their duties, you should raise the matter with the employee in private.

Question: What if I suspect drug or alcohol abuse?

Answer:

Seek advice from your Human Resources area for advice and support on the approach to take.

Share the concern with the employee in a private discussion if there is a high level of certainty about the concern. Suggest using the employee assistance program services. Provide contact details and highlight the confidentiality of these services. Discuss the consequences that can arise if the employee comes to work intoxicated or in an otherwise drugged state. This includes increased risk of injury to self and others, costly work mistakes and overall poor performance if not addressed.

Question: What if I suspect an employee is having issues or crises in their personal life?

Answer:

Seek advice from your Human Resources area on the approach to take.

Share your concern with the employee in a private discussion. Discuss how the employee’s changed behaviour is impacting on their work and the team. Discuss what support the workplace can provide. For example adjustments to regular hours, access to confidential employee assistance program services, or working part-time until the issue/crises is resolved.

Question: What if I suspect my management style is the problem?

Answer:

Start actively reflecting on your behaviour when with others. Be conscious of your body language and general tone. Do you adapt your style to suit the needs that each individual in your team best responds to? Are you doing most of the talking and not enough listening? Do you tend to react rather than respond?

Seek and be open to feedback. This feedback is more likely to be indirect than direct, i.e. through employee surveys, 360 degree feedback mechanisms and via others.

Use expert and confidential manager assistance services offered through your agency’s employee assistance program. These services include general advice and coaching on interpersonal and conflict management skills.

Regularly invest in developing your leadership and people management skills through the use of peer networks and off-the-job development programs.

Question: Can I ask what the problem is?

Answer:

Yes, but there is no requirement for the employee to provide extensive detail. Asking questions in a safe environment and supportive manner is more likely to encourage an open response from the employee.

Question: When should I go to my Human Resources Area?

Answer:

Your Human Resources area supports you with managing unscheduled absences and can:

  • provide you with regular absence data reports and help in interpreting them
  • help you interpret leave provisions
  • coach and guide you through difficult cases
  • provide advice on other processes such as fitness for duty assessment
  • identify training to improve your people management capabilities.


Busting myths

Myth:

There is nothing a manager can do until the employee returns to work.

Reality:

The approach a manager takes can influence an employee’s safe and timely return to work. For example, a manager can start by responding quickly, as soon as an absence is notified, by discussing the circumstances directly with the employee, offering and providing useful support and considering the suitability of other leave options.

Myth:

Privacy legislation stops a manager from contacting people at home.

Reality:

Privacy legislation stops you from seeking or sharing medical information without the prior explicit consent of the individual involved. You have a duty of care to ensure the wellbeing of your employees. This can reasonably include contacting them at home during business hours. It is best to have a workplace protocol in place so that employees can expect to be contacted and to seek agreement on further contact arrangements when an absence looks like, or ends up, being more than a couple of days in duration.

Myth:

It’s the long term absences that managers need to focus on.

Reality:

Patterns of multiple 1 and/or 2 day absences have a significant impact on unscheduled absence rates. Managers should regularly analyse all the absences of their employees over the previous 6–12 months to gain a thorough picture.

Myth:

All long-term absences are unacceptable.

Reality:

Not necessarily. There are numerous situations that can result in an employee being genuinely absent from the workplace for an extensive period/s, for example some medical conditions like cancer, stroke or heart attack and their associated treatments. A tragic event, such as the death of a spouse or a child, may also trigger an employee’s longer term absence.

Myth:

Carers leave is the main issue.

Reality:

While carers leave is increasing as a result of improvements to agencies’ family friendly and work/life balance initiatives, personal leave for personal illness or injury is still the primary cause of unscheduled absence.