Canada Employment and Immigration Union -
January 15, 2004

Case review: medical certificates

Medical certificate no guarantee of sick leave

A doctor’s note is, in most cases, all that is needed to support a sick leave application. But medical certificates "…are not ‘Holy Writ’" according to many adjudicators, and members must bear this in mind when using them. The following case looks at the use of a medical certificate, and while the facts are unusual, to say the least, the discussion of the relevant issues is useful.

The facts

The case put before the adjudicator concerned a grievor who had taken a vacation to Mexico. On the last day of his vacation, he phoned his supervisor to ask for a one week extension to his vacation. His request was denied. On the same day he called his supervisor, the grievor claimed to have visited a dentist who prescribed medication and scheduled surgery for the following day. The grievor again called his supervisor to inform him that based on the dentist’s advice, he would be unable to travel by air for a week.

The grievor provided a medical certificate from the dentist in support of a request for a week’s sick leave. The certificate stated that the grievor was unable to travel by airplane during the extra week spent in Mexico. Despite the certificate, the leave request was denied.

At the adjudication hearing, the grievor admitted in cross-examination that his claim "looked suspicious". There were a number of difficulties with the grievor’s case, including the dates and the content of his phone conversations with his supervisor and the absence of evidence showing that he underwent the dental surgery on the date he claimed. Credibility was a problem.

The grievor’s key argument

However, the grievor ultimately rested his case on the medical certificate: he had produced a certificate and that was enough to allow his claim for sick leave. All other evidence was secondary to the certificate.

The decision

Unfortunately for the grievor, the adjudicator saw it differently. Referring to a private sector decision, the adjudicator stated "… medical certificates of illness are not "Holy Writ" and their mere existence may not be sufficient to support a claim for sick leave." The grievor’s story and its consistency with the overall circumstances was crucial and, in this case, more important than the medical certificate. The grievance was denied.

Medical certificates in perspective

The facts of this case are unusual, but they put the use of medical certificates in perspective. They provide strong support for a member’s sick leave claim, but their power is not absolute. A member’s story about an illness, and the circumstances in which the relevant events take place, can cast a long shadow over a medical certificate.

The full adjudication decision is available here.

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