The Federal Court has ruled that an employer had an implied contractual right to seek a medical report in circumstances where only a basic medical certificate was provided by an employee. A threat by the employer to discipline the employee for failing to comply with the request did not constitute adverse action.
The employee was on long-term sick leave. He first provided the employer with a letter from his doctor, stating only that he was suffering a medical condition and would be unfit for work. Later he provided the employer with a medical certificate stating he was suffering clinical depression and was unfit for normal work for four months. The employer sought a written report from the treating doctor stating the diagnoses, prognosis, capacity to return to pre-injury duties and anticipated time frame for return. When the employee failed to comply with the request, the employer notified the employee that it would be treating the matter as a disciplinary issue.
The Federal Court found that the employer had accepted that the employee was unfit for work and sought the information to plan its roster and assist the employee in his return to work. Justice Rares said that it is necessary to imply a contractual right in some circumstances that an employer can require an employee to undergo a medical examination or provide information relating to a medical condition. Justice Rares held that the employer did not threaten disciplinary action for any reason “involving an intention to prejudice [the employee] in the enjoyment of his right to obtain and receive sick leave.” Rather, the request was to plan for return to work and rostering purposes. As such, the proceedings were dismissed.
Key points for employers:
- Employers may be entitled to seek medical reports or further information about employee’s medical conditions.
- A threat of disciplinary action for a failure to provide such information will not constitute adverse action where the request is made for the purpose of assisting in return to work or for rostering purposes.
- However, employers must be cautious to ensure that such information is not sought for any purpose that may prejudice the enjoyment of employee's rights to obtain and receive sick leave.
A link to the decision can be found here: Australian and International Pilots Association v Qantas Airways Ltd  FCA 32 (6 February 2014)