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14 Jul 2024 6:41
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  •   Home > News > International

    You can now use digital statutory declarations for sick and carer's leave

    You can now use an online statutory declaration as evidence for personal leave from work, without a JP signature.

    Winter cold and flu season is in full swing and, with COVID in the mix too, a lot of workers may be seeking documented evidence when taking sick or carer's leave. 

    Many workplaces will accept a medical certificate or statutory declaration.

    But an otherwise unnecessary trip to the doctor for a medical certificate can be time-consuming, costly, and take clinical time from people who need it. 

    And statutory declarations (or stat decs), while free, have always required finding a JP to sign them.

    But now online statutory declarations are available, and can be used as evidence for personal leave from work.

    Digital Commonwealth statutory declarations

    Since early this year it's possible to make Commonwealth statutory declarations using your Digital Identity, by creating a myGovID and attaching it to your myGov account.

    The documents are free, can be saved, emailed or printed, and once you are set-up take just a few minutes to create.

    Veronica Taylor is a professor of law and regulation at the Australian National University (ANU) and was part of a federal government's task force created to help digitise everyday business documents — including statutory declarations.

    As Professor Taylor explains, "a digital stat dec and the paper stat dec, which is still an option, have exactly the same effect".

    "What you are doing is saying, 'I declare the facts that I've written here to be true, and I've affixed my signature, and we know it's me - either because I've used a digital ID or because, on a paper form, the witness has watched me sign it - and I make the declaration knowing that a false declaration is a crime'.

    "And of course, in an employment situation, your enterprise agreement or your contract with your employer generally has penalties baked in for making false declarations."

    Is it easier to lie on a digital stat dec?

    Professor Taylor says research she and her team undertook showed that the act of a JP witnessing a declaration did not have any bearing on its contents or substance.

    "The witness (the JP) isn't guaranteeing that the contents are true — that burden falls on the person making the declaration.

    "It's a kind of leftover ritual from the days when the stat dec was really a reform to get around having to make an oath."

    It might feel like it's easier to lie when it's just you and your computer, but the consequences of doing so on a statutory declaration are exactly the same as with a paper one.  And an employer may still question whether it constitutes reasonable evidence of your need for leave.

    Shae McCrystal, a Professor of Labour Law at the University of Sydney Law School, warns providing any potentially false or misleading information to your employer could have serious consequences.

    "If you go down the stat dec line, that's a legal document," she says.

    "You never want to be telling untruths to your employer, but [doing so] in that very formal way could very much be grounds for a future disciplinary matter."

    The real cost of medical certificates

    University of Queensland labour law expert Graeme Orr believes there should be a bigger-picture approach to workplace requirements for personal leave.

    "We've got to think about the system-wide effects on millions of people if they do think they have to get a medical certificate.

    "They're either getting bulk-billed, or it's costing the Commonwealth revenue so much per visit — and some of the visits are essentially unnecessary and just for a formal purpose, rather than treatment.

    "That's a problem," Professor Orr says.

    And while he says it's important the solemnity of the statutory declaration process is retained with the online version, he points out that the documents are already often used in lieu of medical certificates — particularly when it comes to carer's leave.

    "If you've got an elderly relative you're caring for and they're sick … it would be weird to have to push them in a wheelchair to a doctor to say, 'look, this frail person is struggling today'.

    "So we already have a system where stat decs are maybe the only evidence that could be written reasonably required."

    It's a sentiment echoed by Professor Taylor, who says "a trust relationship, where employees feel secure and supported, is going to boost productivity".

    "When you signal on the one hand, trust and concern, and signal on the other hand, complete disregard for the person that you're putting the compliance burden on, you get very different results.

    "So [the use of digital statutory declarations] is just a small way of ... actioning what we already know to be true for everyone's benefit."

    © 2024 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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