Woman wins case against Woolworths after she was fired for submitting suspicious sick note

Published Jul 8, 2024


A Woolworths employee who was fired after submitting two ‘suspicious medical certificates’ won her case in the Labour Appeal Court in Johannesburg after it was ruled that her dismissal was unfair.

The ruling was made after the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) ruled in favour of Lorain Maseko and found her dismissal to be substantially unfair.

Woolworths turned to the Labour Court to review the finding, however, they were unsuccessful and they turned to the Appeal Division of the Labour Court, but yet again lost its legal bid.

In June 2018, Maseko submitted a medical certificate to her employer, which was issued by a Dr Frempong.

Following the submission, her employer reviewed her employee file and it was discovered that another medical certificate from the same doctor had been issued in March 2016.

When Maseko was questioned about those medical certificates, she said that the medical certificates were not from the same doctor.

However, her employer was not convinced because they had received an email warning them about suspicious medical certificates issued by a Dr Frempong.

An investigation was conducted and the investigation resulted in Maseko being charged with misconduct (being in breach of company policies and procedures in submitting irregular medical certificates to justify her absence from work). She was found guilty and ultimately dismissed.

Maseko maintained that the medical certificate she was issued in 2018 was from Dr Frempong, but the one she handed in March 2016, was from another doctor, Dr Zanele.

Investigations conducted by Maseko’s supervisor and colleague revealed that Zanele was not a medical practitioner but a nursing assistant to Dr Frempong, who appears to have had two surgeries operating in different areas.

They visited Dr Frempong’s surgery and said they saw patients entering and exiting in less than a minute, with medical certificates and they concluded that patients were thus “buying” fake medical certificates.

Based on what was observed, they concluded that Dr Frempong might not be a real doctor and they suspected that he was selling fake medical certificates.

At the CCMA, Dr Frempong came as a witness and testified that he qualified as a doctor in England at Cambridge University. He is a fellow of the College of Surgeons and also has qualifications in obstetrics and gynaecology.

He said he spent some time as a brain surgeon in England, America and Saudi Arabia and was invited to South Africa to work at Medunsa as a lecturer in neurosurgery.

Explaining who Zanele was, he admitted that he has two offices and in one office he employed a lady who had been with him for 10 years, Zanele, who worked with him as his assistant.

He said Zanele looked after his second practice and when he had a patient, she would call him. In the 10 years she worked with him, Zanele had gotten to know about the management and treatment of patients. She would see a patient when it was urgent, and he was not available, and she would refer the patient to the hospital.

The CCMA found that there was no evidence showing that when Maseko visited the doctor’s surgeries in March 2016 and June 2018, she was not sick when she consulted.

During the appeal, it was found that the evidence of the two investigators that suspicious things were happening in the running of the doctor’s medical practice, even if it was true, was is irrelevant.

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