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Terminating Employment after Disputing Medical Certificate was Costly

Published 01 Jul 2014

Mr Narayan was employed as a specialist at Telecom’s Broadband Help Desk. Mr Narayan took annual holidays over the Christmas period 2011/2012 and was due back at work on 27 December 2011. He did not return to work until 3 January 2012. Mr Narayan was in Fiji, became ill and had to defer his return until he was well. He produced a medical certificate, which became the subject of dispute between himself and his supervisors. Ultimately, his employment was terminated for serious misconduct on 14 March 2012 following a lengthy disciplinary procedure.

Telecom’s witnesses attested that once they received the medical certificate they had some suspicions about the matter, in view of the fact that Mr Narayan had originally sought extended annual leave until 3 January 2012. His request was declined, but in fact that was the very day on which he returned. The evidence from Telecom is that the supervising employees were suspicious of the medical certificate because it was only partly printed and partly handwritten and there was no hospital letterhead printed or endorsed on it. They decided, without informing Mr Narayan, to carry out enquiries with other hospitals based in Fiji as to whether medical certificates would customarily be on a letterhead or simply in this handwritten form. Apparently one hospital indicated that its certificates were on a letterhead form, and another hospital indicated that theirs were not.

The decision by Telecom to dismiss Mr Narayan was not justifiable. Telecom adopted an inappropriately suspicious stance in the matter right from the outset. However, Mr Narayan had an obligation to act in good faith towards his Employer. It is true that he would have been upset by the way matters turned, but nevertheless, he did have an obligation to assist Telecom by giving as much information as he could. Even at the hearing, he alleged that he was not able to give much information about the general practitioner he visited on the first occasion. The Court was very sceptical about his evidence in that regard. Initially, he would not give information to Telecom about his airline bookings. Mr Narayan and his advocate took what the Court regarded to be an unreasonably aggressive stance in the process. However, Telecom ignored the indication from the hospital that the doctor himself stated that Mr Narayan had consulted him and the certificate had been issued. By ignoring this fact, Telecom has substantially undermined the basis for its decision to terminate the Employee. For these reasons the dismissal claim by Mr Narayan was upheld.

In such circumstances the decision reached was that the Employer’s actions and how the Employer acted, were not what a fair and reasonable Employer could have done in all the circumstances at the time the dismissal occurred although in calculating the award for hurt and humiliation the Court reduced by the award by 10% being the applicant’s contribution.

Mr Narayan was awarded $7,000 for hurt and humiliation and for Telecom to reimburse him for four weeks lost wages.

Our advice is that if a medical certificate has the right name and details on it, Employers should not look further than that. The exception would be where there are situations where questions need to be raised if the details appeared incorrect, or the name of the issuing medical practice does not seem legitimate.

In such cases Employers should proceed with caution and certainly seek advice before doing so.