$20 sick notes slammed
EMPLOYERS are increasingly concerned at the growth of paid-for sick notes which they say are being handed out like headache tablets in some pharmacies.
The so-called "absence from work" forms are available from major pharmacy chains and can be used in place of traditional sick notes from GPs.
And if heading to the chemist proves too taxing, some online services even enable employees to access sick notes without a face to face person consultation.
At a Chemist Warehouse branch in Sydney's CBD, a bright sign seen this week advertised sick notes for $20.
"Our pharmacist can issue absence from work certificates for personal and carer's leave."
The service is entirely legal under the Fair Work Act of 2009 with no restrictions as to which conditions pharmacists can sign off on.
However, some people making use of the service have come unstuck when the tick box forms have been deemed as not sufficient proof they were truly incapacitated.
Supporters of the service say people off sick for minor ailments can clog up doctors' surgeries and it's more efficient for them to head to a local pharmacist instead.
But Innes Willox, Chief Executive of peak employer organisation the Australian Industry Group (AI Group) told news.com.au some bosses would be sceptical of notes obtained from a chain store pharmacy.
"Pharmacists are not doctors and the Fair Work Act makes no reference to them being appropriately qualified to issue medical certificates for the purposes of personal/carer's leave entitlements," Mr Willox said.
"Many employers are likely to take the view that they are not satisfied with certificates obtained from pharmacists."
The forms issued by pharmacists make no mention of the ailment the person is suffering from, simply the time frame for which the sick note is valid.
Guidelines from the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia state that pharmacists should be careful about handing out sick notes without good reason.
"For pharmacists the decision on whether or not to issue a certificate must not be taken lightly.
"Pharmacists will need to carefully consider whether or not the illness or injury that is the subject of the certificate is within their recognised area of practice," the guidelines state.
This suggests while a get out of work free card for the flu might be OK, anything more serious should be referred to a GP.
The organisations say a paid charge is justifiable because of the time taken for a 10 minute consultation to assess the malady.
"The fee should reflect the consultation period and other business infrastructure," they state.
"Pharmacists should also consider whether or not they will charge a fee if they conduct a consultation but do not issue a certificate."
A 2014 survey by Direct Heath Solutions found absenteeism cost Australian industry $33 billion a year. Hospitality was the industry with the highest absenteeism rates at more than 11 days per year against an average of 9.5 days annually.
In 2016, a foreign national who intended to appeal a decision not to grant him a visa was refused an adjournment when he said he was too ill to go to the tribunal. The proof he produced of his sickness was a pharmacist-issued note.
Nyarna Kyaw Swa said he, "suddenly got very sick," at around 9am on the day of the Migration Review Tribunal hearing, reported the Australian Journal of Pharmacy.
He attempted to get a medical certificate from two GP surgeries but they were full.
"I then went to a pharmacist to get some medication," Mr Swa wrote in an affidavit. "The pharmacist provided a medical certificate for me. I was shocked to hear the Migration Tribunal had made a decision without me. I did not get an opportunity to present my case."
But the review body said the certificate was said to be "plainly inadequate".
"Mr Swa's affidavit made it plain that he knew that a medical certificate would be required in order to found an argument for an adjournment of the Tribunal Hearing," the Court found.
"The pharmacist's certificate did not say what the medical condition was that Mr Swa was said to suffer from. Nor did it say why Mr Swa could not attend a hearing in person, or, given the offer made by the Tribunal, by telephone.
"The paucity of information and the inadequacy of its content justifies the Tribunal decision."
Employer groups are even less enamoured by online sick note services.
Website chief executive Dr Sachin Patel said at the time that a range of users had got the day off via the service from uni students to near retirees.
"Say you wake up ill at 8am or 9am and you try and get yourself together and make yourself presentable and get an appointment with a doctor - then you have to sit in a waiting room feeling dreadful and once you go home that's a quarter of your day gone when you could've been resting."
He said the vast majority of users were "honest and trustworthy".
But AI Group's Mr Willox said online services were "a concern".
"For obvious reasons, in most cases a doctor will be unable to conclude that a person is genuinely sick without having any physical contact with the person.
"Employees would be wise to not use such services."
Chemist Warehouse, one of the brands that offers the services, has been contacted for comment.