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Requirement for medical examination

In some situations, employees may be required to have a medical examination or be suspended from the workplace.

An employer cannot force an employee to have a medical examination. However, if an employer has good reason to believe that an employee is impaired (unwell or harmed) for any reason (whether from exposure to workplace hazards or other causes) then an employer may suspend an employee, subject to the usual legal requirements.

An employer may request proof that an employee is sick once they have been sick for three or more consecutive days. In some circumstances, an employer can request proof of illness or injury within three consecutive calendar days, but the employer must agree to pay for the doctor’s fees.

Proof of sickness or injury

An employer may ask an employee for proof of sickness or injury. Usually proof is a medical certificate from a doctor saying that the employee is sick or injured (or their spouse, partner or dependant) and isn't able to work. An employer can’t tell an employee which doctor or practice they have to go to.

If an employee is sick or injured for:

  • less than three days, and an employer asks for proof of sickness or injury, they must ask as soon as possible and pay the employee back for the cost of getting the proof, eg a visit to the doctor.
  • three or more days in a row, even if these three days are not all days the employee would have otherwise worked on (otherwise working day) and the employer asks for proof, then the employee needs to meet the cost.

Scenarios

Jennifer works on Monday, then takes a day's sick leave on Tuesday, then has a one day scheduled break on the Wednesday (and is still sick) and another day’s sick leave on Thursday. Her employer can ask for proof at Jennifer’s expense as she has been sick for three days in a row.

Holly works Monday to Friday, she is sick on Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday she phones her employer to tell them that she will be off sick again. Holly’s employer tells Holly that:

  • she will need to bring a medical certificate in to work on her return to prove that she was genuinely ill
  • because she will have been sick for three days, she will need to pay for the costs of getting the medical certificate herself. 

If Holly’s employer had asked for the certificate when she phoned in sick on Tuesday, her employer would have had to cover the cost. Holly’s workplace policies state that sick leave is recorded and deducted in half days; if Holly came to work at lunch time on the Wednesday (and only took a half day’s sick leave) as she was feeling much better, she would have been sick for less than three days, therefore her employer would have to cover the cost of any medical certificate they asked for.

If an employee has extra sick leave benefits in their employment agreement, these might have specific proof requirements, eg an agreement of an extra five days’ sick leave per year and for these five extra days the employee will provide proof that they are sick at their own cost.

If an employer asks for proof of sickness or injury and the employee does not give it to them the employer might not pay the employee for the sick leave. 

If an employer thinks that an employee has misused their sick leave entitlement, they can deal with this as an employment relationship problem. Even if the employer didn’t ask for proof of sickness at the time, they can still use their normal processes for investigating the issue and can use mediation to help resolve any dispute.

Sick leave entitlements has more about what employees are entitled to.

WorkSafe New Zealand may get doctors to audit workplaces for health and safety risks

A WorkSafe New Zealand doctor who has concerns that an employee's health may have been affected by work (eg exposure to chemicals) may ask to examine the employee or provide a sample for testing or analysis.

Before asking for a medical examination or testing, the doctor must be satisfied that the employee has been, or may have been, exposed to a significant hazard while at work. They must also be reasonably satisfied that by examining the employee or taking a sample, they are likely to find out:

  • whether or not the employee is being or has been exposed to a hazard, and how much they have been exposed, or
  • how much the employees' health has been, or may have been, affected by exposure to a hazard.

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