‘Suspicious’ doctor’s sick notes at the heart of Woolies labour dispute

Published Jun 20, 2024


Two suspicious medical certificates from a doctor issued to an employee of Woolworths formed the subject of an appeal before the Johannesburg Labour Appeal Court, after Woolworths was unhappy with a finding that it had to reinstate the worker.

After being fired, the worker, a Mrs Maseko, referred an unfair dismissal dispute to the CCMA, which found her dismissal to be substantially unfair.

Woolworths unsuccessfully turned to the Labour Court to review this finding. It now turned to the Appeal Division of the Labour Court, but yet again lost its legal bid.

In June 2019, Maseko handed a medical certificate to her employer, which was issued by a Dr Frempong.

Fortuitously, some Woolworths stores, including the one in which Maseko worked, had received an email warning them about suspicious medical certificates issued by Frempong.

The issuing of Maseko’s medical certificate prompted Woolworths to review her employee file and it was discovered that another medical certificate from the same doctor had been issued in March 2016.

When Maseko was confronted about the medical certificates, she said they were not from the same doctor.

But Woolworths suspected the certificates were irregular as on the face of it, it was issued by the same doctor.

An investigation followed, with the result giving credence to Woolworth’s suspicion that Dr Frempong was selling medical certificates.

This led to Maseko being charged with misconduct, which resulted in her being fired.

Maseko maintained that the medical certificate she was issued in 2019 was from Dr Frempong, but the one she handed to her employer three years prior to this, was from another doctor, a Dr Zanele.

The investigation showed that “Dr Zanele” was not a doctor, but an assistant to Dr Frempong, who had two surgeries, operating in different areas.

Two investigators went to Dr Frempong’s office, where they said they saw patients entering and exiting in less than a minute, with medical certificates. It was concluded that patients were thus “buying” fake medical certificates.

Woolworths concluded that because of what it called "untoward" happenings at Dr Frempong’s medical practice in respect of the alleged, but unproven, issuing and buying of sick notes, Maseko was not sick on that day.

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.

The CCMA commissioner found there was no evidence based on which it could be concluded that when Maseko visited the doctor’s surgeries in March 2016 and in June 2019, that she was not sick when she consulted and was issued with medical certificates.

There was also documentary evidence of Dr Frempong’s qualifications and extensive experience as a doctor and he was registered with the SA Medical and Dental Council.

It was ruled by the commissioner earlier that the evidence that Dr Frempong was selling medical certificates, was simply hearsay evidence.

On appeal, the court now 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, is irrelevant.

The court concluded that it was not proven that Maseko was not truly sick on the days when she was absent.

Pretoria News