Traditional healers – valid medical certificates?

Traditional healers are consulted by approximately 60% of the South African population. Medical certificates are, more often then not, a requirement for employers when an employee has been ill. Can a note form a traditional healer be accepted as a valid medical certificate?

No medical certificate – no pay

In terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) an employer is not required to pay an employee if:

  • the employee has been absent form work form more than two consecutive days OR
  • on more than one occasion during an eight-week period
  • and does not produce a medical certificate on request of the employer, stating that the employee was unable to work for the duration of the employee’s absence on account of his/her sickness or injury.

Any employee is entitled to the number of days’ paid sick leave equal to the number of days normally worked in a 6 week period during a sick leave cycle of 36 months. During the first 6 months of employment, an employee is entitled to 1 day’s paid paid sick leave for every 26 days worked.

Is it a valid medical certificate?

The medical certificate must be issued and signed by a medical practitioner or any other person who is certified to diagnose and treat patients. This person must also be registered with a professional council established by an Act of Parliament.

In the matter of Kiviets Kroon Country Estate (Pty) Ltd v Mmoledi & others [LAC] JA78/10) an employee was dismissed for being absent from work. The employee had a medical certificate from a traditional healer, indicating that she had premonitions of ancestors. The employer dismissed the employee for being absent from work without having a valid medical certificate. The CCMA and the Labour Court found the dismissal was not justified as she had a justifiable reason for not being at work. The case went to appeal to the Labour Appeal Court. The Labour Appeal Court said that the Constitution recognises traditional beliefs and practices, so employers should also accept these beliefs.

 What does this mean for me as an employer?

For traditional healers’ sick note to be acceptable as a valid medical certificate, the traditional healers must be:

  • certified to diagnose and treat patients
  • registered with a professional council

Abuse of sick leave can have a huge impact on a business’s productivity and profitability. To ensure that employees do not abuse sick leave, employers should implement clear rules and standards in the workplace regarding attendance, absenteeism and sick leave.

We advise employers to use the following guidelines and ensure that employees know:

  • how and when to apply for any form of leave;
  • who to contact if they are ill, injured or have a family emergency;
  • how to contact that person (telephone, text message, e-mail, etc.);
  • when they will be required to submit supporting documentation such as a medical certificate from a registered medical practitioner, or proof of a death in the family; and
  • what the consequences of non-compliance will be (disciplinary action, unpaid leave, etc.)

It is also very important that the employer monitor work attendance and leave taken. Do monthly reports to identify any possible patterns in terms of absenteeism amongst employees. These patterns and trends are usually indicative of a more serious problem, for instance chronic medication condition.

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LWO Regsadviseur - LWO Legal Advisor

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