“I was really stunned by the credibility of the fake sick note”, states Bart. “It was in the bag within five minutes, I just had to fill in a questionnaire and pay. At first glance, it looked highly authentic. Without any medical intervention, I had arranged a one-month leave of absence for myself.”

“At first glance, the fake sick note looked highly authentic."

Missing NIHDI number is suspect

There are still some details you can look out for to unveil a fake sick note. “On my fake certificate, it transpired that the doctor mentioned did not work at the hospital specified. Indeed, the person mentioned turned out not to be a doctor at all.”

“But even more striking and also easier to check as an employer: the NIHDI number of the treating doctor was missing. So if you receive a sick note without that code, the alarm bells should go off automatically.”

Employee risks dismissal and prosecution

Monitoring organisation Certimed, processor of hundreds of thousands of attestations a year, is already taking additional measures to intercept fraud cases. Bart: “Our monitoring doctors will pay extra attention to the origin of medical certificates during medical checks.”

“Incidentally, the consequences of employees submitting a fake sick note can be major”, he continues. “Besides summary dismissal, they can be criminally prosecuted for written forgery.”

“If you receive a sick note without an NIHDI number, alarm bells should go off.”

Lack of absenteeism policy is a sticking point

Yet Bart is by no means advocating a culture of threats. According to him, the sticking point is precisely the lack of an absenteeism policy. On many shop floors, tackling absenteeism is unfortunately limited to one question: ‘Are you bringing in the sick note?’

Bart: “That sick note symbolises the medicalisation of absenteeism and precludes any discussion. After all, as an employer, you cannot talk about illness with your employee. So as soon as the word ‘sick’ is uttered, the human resources department handles the administrative formalities and the relationship between employer and employee is on hold."

Friendly yet business-like relationship influences behavioural choice

Bart therefore sees much more benefit in a friendly yet businesslike relationship between the manager and the employee. Bart: “Managers have everything to gain from working to build a trusting relationship with their team members. That positive approach is flanked by clear agreements and rules, which are also consistently followed.”

“That's how you influence the behavioural choices that play a role in absenteeism”, he concludes. “It takes courage to talk to your supervisor about a personal problem. Calling in sick is much easier, as you avoid that vulnerable conversation. By regularly asking as a manager how things are going and showing that everything is negotiable, you lower that threshold. That's how you lay the foundation to talk about real employability.”