John Weekes

John Weekes is an NZME. News Service reporter based in Wellington.

New rules for sick day passes

Reporter John Weekes visited medical clinics in Auckland to see if he could get a doctor's sick note. Photo / Michael Craig
Reporter John Weekes visited medical clinics in Auckland to see if he could get a doctor's sick note. Photo / Michael Craig

Feel like taking a mental health day off work? You might need to get in quick as the Medical Council of New Zealand is reviewing its sick note guidelines.

A Herald on Sunday reporter visited three Auckland doctors this week and was given time off work by them all after saying he wasn't feeling 100 per cent and was a bit tired.

The ease with which people are able to get sick notes is highlighted by the case of a man who was sacked after being photographed coaching at a waka ama championship when he had provided a medical certificate to take the day off sick.

Gisborne's Bruce Taiapa was denied leave for his sporting commitments but went anyway and lost his wrongful dismissal case at the Employment Relations Authority.

The "bland and uninformative nature" of the sick note was highlighted in his hearing.

Now, the guidelines for doctors dispensing medical certificates is under review.

Medical Council chief executive Philip Pigou said he had received about 50 submissions from doctors, unions and employers' groups. New guidelines could be out in a fortnight.

Early proposals show more details are likely to be required in sick notes. Where a medical condition relates to ill health arising in the workplace, the doctor might have to include the diagnosis and the factors the patient believes contributed to the illness.

Doctors may have to detail any duties the patient is still able to perform in their condition if they consider them fit to work.

Pigou said patients were ethically obliged to be honest with doctors. It was in their interest to tell the truth but there were always grey areas. "It's pretty hard, I imagine, to diagnose that a patient is having headaches but if someone's coming in with flu, that's pretty obvious."

Employment law specialist Danny Gelb said lying to a doctor could be a breach of an employee's good faith obligations under the Employment Relations Act. But he agreed it was difficult to prove. "How do you dispute someone has back pain, is feeling sick or mega-stressed?"

Yet Gelb said being too harsh on patients could be catastrophic. "Say a doctor doesn't give a certificate and the forklift driver drives the forklift over the edge of a cliff ? Does the doc then have a contingent liability?"

Meanwhile, New Zealand Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said some bosses were being unfair on workers by asking for a doctor's certificate if they took even one sick day.

Wanted: Time off

At a clinic at 99 St Lukes Rd, I run to script: "I'm not feeling 100 per cent."

"Have you had a fever? No? So what is your requirement today? You just want to take time off?

"Do you smoke? How many cigarettes? How many years?"

More questions: blood pressure, allergies, family health. "You're not feeling well in what sense?"

I'm told to get antidepressants and a blood test. Finally, 13 minutes into the consultation, I get a sick note - one day off.

At 415 Queen St and 52 Gladstone Rd, Parnell, doctors prescribe common-sense advice: eat well, sleep, take it easy. My blood pressure and temperature are checked at both. At Parnell, I am also weighed and measured.

Both give two days off - thanks for coming.

Is it too easy to get off work? Email letters@hos.co.nz.

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