The Validity of Medical Certificates

By Russell Drake


One of the biggest frustrations employer’s face with respect to employee absences is the arrival of the Medical Certificate simply stating “unfit for work”. Such certificates are often accompanied by further advice stating that the employee has been sick for some time (pre-dating the date of the Doctor’s appointment) and they will continue to be unwell for some defined period.

Such certificates provide no value to the employer, who may have suspicions regarding the validity of the injury/illness and may in fact be in breach of the Medical Council of New Zealand (MCNZ) Guidelines to Practitioners. The MCNZ Guidelines clearly state that:

  • Information disclosed should be accurate and based upon clinical observation, with patient comment clearly distinguished from clinical observation. Meaning that a Certificate cannot be produced if the Doctor has not personally assessed (in their presence) the patient. That assessment should not be retrospective from the date of the assessment, although the Certificate may state that “the patient informs me that they have been sick since (date)” 
  • Any comments on fitness for work should refer specifically to clinical opinion, outlining those activities that are safe for the patient to undertake and appropriate restrictions, or unsafe activities that the patient should not undertake.
  • If the patient is fit for some activities this should be recorded within the Certificate.

In completing the Certificate the MCNZ Guidelines state; “The patient and the employer are often in a better position to decide how the clinical opinion applies to the particular work situation. It is therefore often important to focus attention on those activities the patient can and cannot safety undertake, rather than on whether or not the patient is capable of working”.

An employer receiving a bland “unfit for work” Certificate has the right to reject the Certificate and to refer the employee to another Doctor for assessment. If a Doctor issues a ‘non-complying’ Medical Certificate the employer also has the right to refer this by way of complaint to either the MCNZ or the Health and Disability Commissioner.

If you have any concerns regarding Medical Certificates presented by employees please feel free to contact us for advice.

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