Diana Mahabir-Wyatt

JAWS dropped and eyebrows raised throughout the workforce in T&T on Friday, December 6, when readers awoke to see in their morning papers that someone had actually been sentenced to six months in jail for falsifying a sick leave certificate and submitting it to his employer.

Most people are not aware that six months in prison can be the outcome of pretending to be ill when you are not, although most people over the age of 12 are aware that fraud is a criminal offence.

Most people know that claiming money under false pretences is fraud. But for some reason there are people over the age of 12 who have not put together the fact that to claim for “sick leave with pay” from your employer and the fact that you are not really sick constitutes fraud.

In our Industrial Relations Act (IRA) , which governs the conduct of industrial relations in Trinidad and Tobago, there is a provision that makes this very clear. Captioned “Fraudulent Medical Certificates,” Section 77 states: “A worker who, by deception, absents himself from his employment is liable on summary conviction to a fine of one thousand dollars or to imprisonment for six months .”

In this case the worker who at the time was employed in the Police Service managed to get a genuine medical certificate for six days and “doctored” it by putting an extra “0” after the figure “6” and added a “ty” after the word “six”.

Please note that a doctor cannot grant “sick leave” to anyone unless that person works for the doctor. A medical practitioner can only recommend that it be given. The doctor is not the employer and does not pay the worker’s wages. The employer does. A medical certificate is not a command form, it is a recommendation. People forget.

There is actually no such thing as literal “sick leave.” There is, in reality, an agreed “payment during illness” to assist an employee to continue to support his family who would otherwise experience hardship. Back in the day, employees did not get paid for a day on which they did not turn up for work.

Many daily paid workers still do not get paid for the day if they miss work due to illness.

Because of this hardship, in 1976 a minimum wages law was passed entitling permanent workers up to 14 days’ paid sick leave per year if they were genuinely ill, not to take an extra two weeks vacation with full pay. It just doesn’t work that way.

The IRA even goes on provide that a medical practitioner who issues a fraudulent medical certificate is liable under summary conviction to a fine of $2,000 or to a year in prison. This applies to those fraudster medical practitioners that charge $20 a day for false medical certificates. Most workers know where to find them.

They usually don’t bother to do an examination, they just ask how many days you want and tell you how much it will cost. They insist on being paid in cash to avoid taxes.

But in this case it was not the doctor who was party to the attempted deception, it was the worker, or his brother who brought in the “doctored” certificate for him.

Kind of obvious, wouldn’t you think? How do people get away with it?

Is it because their human resources department doesn’t look closely enough at the “certificate”? Do their supervisors, seeing them reasonably healthy one day, actually believe that the next day they are suddenly so ill as to need 60 days leave without even a NIS request to cover the days not covered by the 14 days allocated? And not check to find out what has really happened?

In this case, the supervisor did check.

That the worker was a member of the police service, a public service that a sadly substantial percentage of the population already perceive as corrupt. That does not help. We want to believe and trust in our police service.

We NEED to be able to believe and trust our police service. Our police service wants to be able to believe and trust in itself. Why destroy the foundations on which your own organisation is built?

So this worker will serve his time in jail. And, now that the possibility of having to do likewise has come to the attention of the public, so may other people .

Sick leave is not an entitlement unless you are genuinely sick. Otherwise, claiming it is fraud.

Now we know.

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