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7 Facts that you must know NOW about sick notes

Jan Kemp Nel

According to section 23 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act:

1.    For a medical certificate to be valid, it must state that:

  • The employee was unable to perform his or her normal duties because of illness (or an injury); and

  • This diagnosis is based on the professional opinion of the medical practitioner.

2.    A certificate which states that the practitioner “saw the patient” or “was informed by the patient” is not considered to be a valid medical certificate. This is because the practitioner did not declare, in his professional opinion, that the employee was unable to perform normal duties because of illness (or an injury).  

Certificates like this only tell you that the practitioner saw the patient, e.g. for a check-up, but does not say that he diagnosed him with anything.

3.    You have to accept a backdated medical certificate if it stipulates that, in the professional opinion of the practitioner, the employee was unable to perform his or her normal duties during the backdated period.

4.    Sick leave may not be used for the following:

  • Routine check-ups;

  • Examinations;

  • Tests;

  • Collecting medicine from the pharmacy; and

  • Visits to specialist medical practitioners.

Remember: Sick leave is for when the employee is medically unfit to perform his or her normal duties.

5.    To be valid, a medical certificate must be issued by a medical practitioner.

4 Types of medical practitioners who can issue valid medical certificates

  • Doctors with an MBChB degree who is registered with the Health

Professions Council of South Africa;

  • Dentists who are registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa;

  • Psychologists with a masters degree in research, counselling or clinical psychology who is registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa; and

  • Any other medical practitioner registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa.

As yet, traditional healers have not been allowed to issue valid medical certificates:

  • The recent case of the Labour Appeal Court, where it was ruled that the employer should have recognised the certificate of a traditional healer, must be read in the context of the particular circumstances of that case.  It does not mean that an employer now has to accept the notes or letters of traditional healers unconditionally, inclusive of sangomas and witch doctors. (Kiviets Kroon Country Estate (Pty) Ltd v Mmoledi & others [LAC] JA78/10).  

6.    A sick note or certificate must contain the following:

  • The name and the qualifications of the person issuing the certificate;

  • His or her contact number and physical address;

  • A proper practice or registration number;

  • Words to the effect that ‘I have examined (name), and find him/her to be unfit for work for a period of (date/s)’. The medical practitioner does not have to give a diagnosis because of doctor/patient privilege;

  • The date of the examination; and

  • The signature of the practitioner.

Remember: The medical certificate must be an original document and it must be legible.

7.    You are entitled to reject ‘phoney’ or suspicious sick notes. So if your employee hands you a medical certificate which you think is fake, you can reject it. If you reject a medical certificate you do not have to pay that employee sick leave.


Author: Jan Kemp Nel is the CEO of Streetwize Labour Law (Pty) Ltd.. He has a BA(LLB) from the University of Pretoria and a Diploma in Labour Relations from Unisa. With his 30 years’ experience in industrial relations and labour law, he has developed and introduced procedures in industrial relations in all areas He advocates and practises a preventative philosophy regarding industrial relations, recognising that conflict must be dealt with using proactive methods.