The Medical Council often receives questions from the public about medical certificates.
In this article, we provide a summary for health consumers, employers and others about doctors’ obligations regarding medical certificates and answer some commonly asked questions.
What are a doctor’s obligations when it comes to medical certificates?
Medical practitioners have important legal and professional responsibilities when issuing medical certificates. Specifically, they must:
- Be honest and not misleading when issuing medical certificates.
- Only sign medical certificates they believe or reasonably believe, to be accurate.
This means the medical certificate must be based on facts known to the doctor – including the practitioner’s own observations as well as information provided by the patient. Any medical statements in the certificate must have a factual basis.
Frequently asked questions
My employee has a medical certificate dated after she started sick leave. Is this legal?
Yes, a medical practitioner can issue a medical certificate after a patient has taken sick leave, providing the certificate states:
- the date the certificate was issued
- the period during which the practitioner believes the patient would have been unfit for work.
Does the doctor have to put the specific details of my illness in the certificate?
A patient’s right to confidentiality must be respected; diagnosis or details of the illness should not be included in a medical certificate without a patient’s consent.
Patients can request their medical practitioners not to include information about their diagnosis in the certificate, but in this case, the information provided on the certificate may not be enough to attract sick leave.
An employer has the ultimate right to accept or reject a certificate.
Can a doctor refuse to issue a medical certificate?
A medical practitioner may decline to issue a certificate. This may occur if s/he does not consider that absence from work is necessary given the nature of the illness, or if a certificate is requested retrospectively and the practitioner is not confident about the facts of the matter.
What should be included in a medical certificate?
The medical certificate should have all of the following:
- name and address of the practitioner issuing the certificate
- name of the patient
- date the examination took place
- degree of incapacity of the patient
- date the medical practitioner considers the patient is likely to be able to return to work
- be addressed to the party requiring the certificate as evidence of illness, for example, an employer, insurer or magistrate
- date the certificate was written and signed.
What are the standards or guidelines which apply to medical certificates?
The Medical Council of NSW has published guidelines it expects practitioners to adhere to when issuing medical certificates.
The Medical Board of Australia’ Code of Conduct also provides important guidance about the doctor-patient relationship, confidentiality and other matters:
A Good Medical Practice: A Code of Conduct for Doctors in Australia
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If you have further questions about medical certificates, please contact us.