In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, may an employer force an employee who has been absent to disclose his or her medical condition?

In the ordinary course, a medical practitioner who completes a Medical Certificate to be presented to his/her patient’s employer will not disclose the medical condition suffered by the patient. Instead the Medical Certificate will merely indicate that the employee suffered from a “Medical Illness” which prevented him/her from reporting for duty.

This may be particularly alarming to an employer in light of the recent Covid-19 Outbreak and his/her obligation to provide a Safe and Healthy Work Environment for the rest of the employees.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, an employer is still not entitled to require an employee to disclose his/her medical condition as diagnosed by a medical practitioner. 

However, the COVID-19 regulations issued in terms of Section 27(2) of the Disaster Management Act do provide some ‘built in’ protections which, when properly implemented, extend to the workplace.  

The regulation 7 requires any person who tests positive to be quarantined immediately by the diagnosing medical practitioner. The patient will then only be discharged once he/she has been treated and has subsequently tested negative. It is only at this point that the medical practitioner will issue a medical certificate declaring the employee fit for duty. 

In light of the above, an employer who is presented a Medical Certificate by an employee may rest assured that the employee concerned has either tested negative for the virus or have been diagnosed with some unrelated illness. No Medical Practitioner will issue a Medical Certificate to be presented to an employer otherwise.