Professional Indemnity Law

What are the requirements for issuing sick notes?

Posted 10 November 2020

Director, Karin Zybrands

In February 2020 the Kwazulu Natal High Court issued a warrant of arrest against former president Jacob Zuma when it found that a sick note that had been presented to the Court on his behalf was insufficient proof that he was indeed too ill to appear in person. The sick note in question was published in the media and this led to some discussion as to what are, in fact, the requirements for an acceptable sick note.

In the Ethical Rules of Conduct for Practitioners registered under the Health Professions Act, No 56 of 1974, it is stated that a practitioner shall grant a certificate of illness only if such certificate contains the following information - 

  1. the name, address and qualification of such practitioner;
  2. the name of the patient;
  3. the employment number of the patient (if applicable);
  4. the date and time of the examination;
  5. whether the certificate is being issued as a result of personal observations by such practitioner during an examination, or as a result of information which has been received from the patient and which is based on acceptable medical grounds;
  6. a description of the illness, disorder or malady in layman’s terminology with the informed consent of the patient: Provided that if such patient is not prepared to give such consent, the practitioner shall merely specify that, in his or her opinion based on an examination of such patient, such patient is unfit to work;
  7. whether the patient is totally indisposed for duty or whether such patient is able to perform less strenuous duties in the work situation;
  8. the exact period of recommended sick leave;
  9. the date of issue of the certificate of illness;
  10. and the initial and surname in block letters and the registration number of the practitioner who issued the certificate.

Furthermore, the certificate must be signed by the practitioner next to his or her initials and surname printed in block letters. The Rules also state that if pre-printed stationery is used, a practitioner shall delete words which are not applicable.

In some cases an employer may question the validity or details on a sick note. If a medical practitioner receives such a query from an employer of a patient, it is important to keep in mind that the practitioner still has a duty of confidentiality towards the patient. Accordingly, the practitioner may only disclose additional information (which does not appear on the sick certificate) to the employer with the patient’s consent.