We have previously published a legal update regarding whether an
employer is obliged to accept a medical certificate on face value
and the extent to which the employer can choose to query,
disbelieve or disagree with it.1
In that case, the Fair Work Commission (the
FWC) appeared to accept that an employer is not required
to blindly accept medical certificates as proof of the facts
therein. There however, the FWC found that the medical certificates
should have been accepted. The medical certificates in question
were very detailed, specifically addressing which parts of the job
were contributing to the employee's inability to work. This was
contrasted with certificates which simply said, for example,
"X is unfit to work from A to B".
The recent case of Grant v BHP Coal Pty Ltd  FWC
1712 dealt with a similar question but with notably different
Mr Grant was employed by BHP Coal Pty Ltd (BHP)
as a boilermaker from 2003 until he was dismissed on 17 May
In October 2011, Mr Grant sustained a work related injury and
subsequently reinjured himself a number of times. As at April 2013,
Mr Grant had not worked for approximately 8 months and there had
been little contact with BHP over this period.
On 2 April 2013, Mr Grant attempted to return to work. He
produced a number of medical certificates that were drafted in the
simplest possible terms, stating that he was "receiving
treatment for MEDICAL CONDITION". The final certificate stated
that Mr Grant was "fit to return to his normal duties as and
from Monday April 1st 2013".
Mr Grant's supervisor was not satisfied. He required Mr
Grant to attend an appointment with a medical practitioner, engaged
by BHP, to determine whether there should be any restrictions on Mr
Grant's work capacity. Mr Grant did not attend that appointment
and failed to attend three further appointments.
Having provided a written warning, BHP terminated Mr Grant's
employment on the basis that he had failed to attend the medical
examinations and therefore failed to follow lawful and reasonable
directions by his employer.
Mr Grant made an unfair dismissal application.
Commissioner Spencer rejected Mr Grant's application.
Although she criticised some aspects of BHP's conduct, it was
ultimately found that the concerns over Mr Grant's medical
condition, and the insistence that he attend a further medical
examination, were reasonable. The fact that he had a medical
certificate stating that he was fit for work was not sufficient in
the circumstances, particularly as it provided no substance to the
nature of the medical condition or to any treatment that had taken
It also did not assist Mr Grant that, after the evidence had
been heard but before the parties had made closing submissions, it
emerged that Mr Grant was simultaneously making a workers
compensation claim, alleging that he had a 20% degree of permanent
impairment arising from the injury and that he "suffers pain
and is restricted in his movement" – this claim was
clearly at odds with his evidence and submissions in the unfair
This decision affirms the position that medical certificates are
to be treated as important evidence but are not determinative. A
medical certificate stating that an employee is fit for work does
not absolve the employer from the obligation to ensure a safe
system of work. It also highlights the importance of employees
providing a detailed medical certificate. Broad statements
of fitness or unfitness to work are likely to be of less value than
detailed reports of the employee's medical condition,
treatment, prognosis, recommended restrictions and the reasons for
1 "Revenge of the Geek" –
Marshall v Commonwealth of Australia (represented by the Bureau
of Meteorology)  FMCA 1052
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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