Full disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. You should also always see a Practitioner about any health needs. Should you be in a sticky situation, you should always seek out advice from a legal or health professional, depending on your needs.
There’s never been a better time in history for mental health awareness. As a society, we’re slowly but surely breaking down the barriers that enable conversations around mental health, as well as awareness of the needs of the self and others — and the benefits that can come with looking after our mental health.
Although we’ve been dramatically improving awareness and conversations around mental health, significant events, namely the ever present COVID, further exasperated underlying mental health concerns. This prompted a broad response from the Australian government which saw a huge emphasis on telehealth as a priority service for Australians to access — fast-tracking the development and growth of telehealth as a necessary solution for mental health issues across Australia.
One of the key findings of the Productivity Commission’s Mental Health Inquiry into reforming mental health in Australia was as follows:
“The Productivity Commission found that Australia’s current mental health system is not comprehensive and that reform of the mental health system would produce large benefits in quality of life for people with mental ill-health valued at up to $18 billion annually, with an additional annual benefit of $1.3 billion due to increased economic participation”
One of the key focuses of this inquiry was into prevention — stopping mental health issues before they get worse, in turn getting harder to fix, and becoming more of a burden at the individual and socio-economic level.
We’re fortunate in Australia to have a high standard of living, and (usually) great employment standards due in part to a long history of unions and EBA development. However, even with all of the benefits of Australian working and living conditions, mental health issues do not discriminate — even if those with mental health issues are often discriminated against.
Because of this, employees are often in a bit of a bind — mental health issues are typically invisible, so it can be a tricky scenario for employers to be taking an employees word for these issues. This is why at the very least a health practitioner who is providing a more objective assessment is suitably involved in situations where sick leave (or paid personal leave) might be needed.
This is where health platforms such as updoc come in — employees can quickly and conveniently access a consultation with an Independent Health Practitioner and have their mental health issues assessed and, if suitable, a medical certificate provided for their mental health issues.
There’s good reason for this being an appropriate outcome if mental health issues are stirring around. And it’s probably more beneficial than you might think.
In 2014, PwC found that for every dollar spent on creating a mentally healthy environment, there was a return of AUD$2.30 in profit. This is supported by research from Heads Up, which estimated that unresolved and untreated mental health issues cost Australian businesses approximately AUD$10.9 billion a year.
So, not only is it important at an individual level, and a broader economic level, but also at a company level — and investment in it can see some fairly significant ROI. It’s also just good to do, because we’re all people, and people are important.
Even with everything above considered, this is a tricky one. In an ideal working environment, there would be open communication channels and these types of conversations should be fairly easy, if not encouraged — in turn likely reducing the number of conversations needed.
In addition, 9 out of 10 employees see mental health in the workplace as important. However, only 5 out of 10 employees believe their senior leader values mental health. This is a big gap between perceived need and perceived expectation.
There’s another big gap between employees and employers which can impact these conversations — 8 out of 10 leaders say there is a policy / procedure / practice in place to help with mental health issues — but almost 40% of employees don’t know these exist or how to access them.
In other words, structurally, it is difficult to bridge the conversational gap already. However, most agree that open conversations and dialogue about mental health issues one might be experiencing is important. Furthermore, having these concerns assessed by an Independent Health Practitioner, such as one via updoc, can really help with these conversations as an Independent, Registered Health Practitioner has a duty of care and won't provide medical certificates in instances where they believe it isn’t necessary.
What this means is, having conversations with your employer are important, but backing it up with some support from a Registered Health Practitioner in the form of a suitably provided medical certificate can really help. An employee can use this to support their conversations and build trust between themselves and their employer with these open, honest conversations.
The Fair Work Act (2009) states a few important elements that are important to know from both parties involved. This includes requiring ‘evidence that would satisfy a reasonable person’ that time was taken off work for a legitimate reason.
This is created to ensure employees cannot easily abuse the sick days they are entitled to, and only miss work when they are actually too ill to perform their job. Alternatively, if there’s a risk that they will spread the illness to their coworkers (as we’ve all become too familiar with through COVID) this also helps as it is often a concern for businesses.
An employer can technically set out their own rules for how sick leave is handled, so long as:
An employer might determine that medical certificates for work are only required when sick leave is taken multiple days in a row, or right before a public holiday weekend when people might be trying to create their own long weekend (sneaky…). Additionally, if an employee refuses to provide the evidence requested by their employer, they are usually not entitled to pay for the period they were away from work.
A valid medical certificate provided after a consultation with a Partner Doctor, if needed, also protects employees from unfair rejections by employers who might think their employee is ‘faking it’. This is because Under the Fair Work Act (2009), medical certificates need to be accepted at face value. In other words, these medical certificates are the evidence needed to show an employee was medically unable to work that day and that they must be paid as per normal (in line with paid personal leave, if days are still available).
This is often because valid medical certificates can only be provided by Registered Health Practitioners after a consultation (digital or in-person) who are registered with the relevant health agency, such as the Medical Board of Australia.
Importantly, there’s also no means or mechanism for your employer to call your doctor and ask questions about the illness or injury due to confidentiality.
Put simply — if you need a mental health day off, it's likely you should get a Practitioner assessment. It’s absolutely in yours and your employers best interest and it will benefit everybody in the long run.
If you need to speak with a Partner Practitioner who, if suitable, can provide an online medical certificate, it’s a simple process through updoc:
📱 Head here
📝 Fill in a short form — it asks for key details about your issue
👨⚕️ Consult with your own Partner Doctor — they’ll take the medical information you provide and assess your needs within 24-48 hours
📥 If they find it to be suitable, your Partner Doctor will issue you a medical certificate to your inbox — you’ll receive an SMS and an e-mail with your medical certificate ready to download
It’s important to note that the independent Partner Doctor will read your health notes and make an informed decision on whether to provide you with a medical certificate or not. The Practitioner does not work for us, and we’ve created updoc to facilitate a convenient, ongoing connection with them.