Falsifying medical certificate justified dismissal

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Falsifying medical certificate justified dismissal

An employee who altered a medical certificate so she could return to work sooner than the doctor ordered has been fairly dismissed for serious misconduct.

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An employee who altered a medical certificate so she could return to work sooner than a doctor ordered has been fairly dismissed for serious misconduct.

[Full text of this case: J v Alpha Flight Services Pty Ltd [2016] FWC 4259 (18 July 2016)]

Eleventh hour admission


A woman employed as a chef injured her neck in November 2015 as a result of an increase in her workload. She was placed on light duties and allowed to lift only 2 kg.

After she made a workers compensation claim, her manager’s behaviour changed and he began to bully her for taking time off. He made her feel that he thought her workers compensation case was not genuine.

The chef had the flu on 13 January 2016, and got a medical certificate stating she was not fit to return to work until 19 January 2016. She changed the return date to 18 January 2016 so she could return to work one day early. Her manager was suspicious because it looked as if the dates on the medical certificate had been changed. He called her to a meeting on 19 January 2016, but she did not admit she had changed it.

At a later second meeting, the manager said he had contacted the doctor who wrote the certificate and come to the conclusion the chef had altered it. Therefore she was summarily dismissed for serious misconduct, namely falsifying a legal document. She finally admitted that she had changed the date but said she did not believe it was wrong because she had not derived any benefit from returning to work one day early.

When told she was dismissed, the chef asked if she could have a representative present. She wanted someone she trusted from outside her employer’s organisation – someone who could explain to her more clearly the reason for the dismissal. She felt that none of her colleagues would support her for fear of their own jobs. But the manager said she could only have someone employed by the company.

The employee applied to the Fair Work Commission for an unfair dismissal remedy according to s394 of the Fair Work Act 2009.

At the hearing before Commissioner Hunt, the chef reported she had felt intimidated at the meetings leading to her dismissal because her manager had been looming over her. He had also asked her questions about her workers compensation claim and about the cortisone injections she was receiving for her neck injury.

The manager explained in his evidence that these questions had been general conversation and he had not meant to be intimidating.

Conclusions


The commissioner concluded that the chef had engaged in misconduct by falsifying the medical certificate, even though it had caused the employer no harm and given herself no advantage. Altering a medical certificate could undermine an employer’s confidence in such important documents. The employed had a valid reason for dismissing her.

Commissioner Hunt found the employer had unreasonably refused the chef to have her preferred support person present. He also said the manager’s conduct in sitting on the edge of the table while the chef sat in one of the chairs had been distasteful.

"A manager should make use of chairs to ensure an employee does not feel intimidated by a manager’s physical presence", he said.

The manager’s conduct had also been overbearing in his insistence that she should make further inquiries into the appropriate number of cortisone injections she needed. Nevertheless, her dismissal could not be regarded as harsh, unjust or unreasonable.

The chef’s application was dismissed.

J v Alpha Flight Services Pty Ltd [2016] FWC 4259 (18 July 2016)

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