When To Get A Doctor’s Note For Missing Work

By Chris Kolmar - Mar. 15, 2021
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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If you get sick as an adult and plan to take time off from work, you may think a doctor’s note isn’t necessary. You believe your word should be trusted. Unfortunately, this is not always true. The severity of your illness or the policies of your employer can require a medically excused absence from a healthcare provider.

These days, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, employees have become further aware of their healthcare needs in the workplace. When you’re sick, it’s a good idea to stay home and rest to speed up your recovery, also decreasing the risk of transmission to your coworkers. However, sometimes this policy is abused.

This is why employers may ask for a doctor’s note. If an employee frequently calls in sick or is sick for long periods, the employer cannot be sure whether the situation is legitimate or not without a medical professional’s approval. Therefore, there are certain times when you may be asked to provide a doctor’s note by your employer.

When Do You Need a Note From Your Doctor?

It can be hard to figure out if you need a doctor’s note when you are sick and missing out on work, so it is important to know ahead of time what you should do. There are three main factors can help you decide if you need a doctor’s note:

  1. The severity of your situation. If you will be out consistently or for a long period due to your illness or injury, you will likely need a note from your doctor. Such consistent absences need to be excused to avoid unfair consequences.

    Plus, if the situation is severe, it is considerate and practical to inform your employer, as they may be able to help.

  2. The policy of your employer. Different workplaces have different sick leave policies. You should refer to human resources and your employee handbook to clarify what is expected. The size and type of your organization, as well as the current length of your employment, will all be factored into the decision.

  3. The local and state laws of your place of employment. Though there are federal laws in place for certain types of sick leave, which will be discussed later, many employees can be just as affected by the laws of their state or city. Check the necessary government websites to find relevant information.

As you can see, you may not always need a doctor’s note. For instance, if you are sick with the cold and will only miss a day or two. Your job may provide paid or unpaid sick leave for short periods of use. Many employers will not request a note if you miss one to two days due to infrequent illness or injury.

However, if you are new to an organization you have to be careful. Some policies may not let you take sick leave for the first 60 or 90 days of employment. Also, if you miss three or more days in a row, many organizations will expect some type of medical notice.

Finally, it is completely legal for an employer to ask for a doctor’s note at any time, as long as they consider the discrimination and privacy laws that accompany such a request. You want to keep this in mind. Though most employers want to avoid any sort of lawsuit, they still may take action within their legal rights.

The best thing you can do is to be prepared. Know the policies of your company ahead of time and research the governmental regulations of your area. Review the employee handbook and other forms of information you received on your first day.

Also, understand what should be on a doctor’s note to ensure it is properly filled out with all of the correct information.

What Can Be Disclosed on a Doctor’s Note?

Like the decision to provide a doctor’s note, the contents of the note will depend on the circumstances. Due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), access to a patient’s records from an outside party is highly restricted. In most cases, the medical professional who provides the note will only disclose relevant information.

This information includes the date of your visit, validation for the necessity of the visit, recommendations for the length of your absence, and other suggestions for accommodations.

For most circumstances, the doctor’s note cannot release details of your health without your consent. With your discretion, you should provide as little information as possible to protect your privacy and avoid possible discrimination.

That being said, there are instances where an employer may ask and receive more information, particularly if the medical situation requires extended time off or results in a disability that will affect your performance at work.

Such circumstances are addressed in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Extended Leave Doctor’s Notes

The FMLA provides protections for employees who need extended medical leave. This may apply to you, however, the act only covers certain types of employers and employees.

If, for example, the employer is a private company, it must have 50 or more employees in at least 20 workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.

If you work for a local, state, or federal government agencies, or a public or private school, then you are covered by the FMLA regardless of the size of your organization. Employees covered by the FMLA must have been employed for at least 12 months and worked 1,250 hours during the 12 months leading up to the request.

HIPPA regulations still protect your privacy. However, under the FMLA, your employer, as long as they are not your direct supervisor, is allowed to request authentication or clarification from your healthcare provider.

What’s more, your doctor may need to provide details of dates that reveal future visits and treatments.

If you find yourself in a situation where extended medical leave is necessary, make sure to review your employer’s policies and relevant regulations. If you need help, contact human resources and federal, state, and local agencies.

Doctor’s Notes for Disabilities and Accommodations

If you are diagnosed with an illness or injury that will persist throughout your employment then you may be entitled to protections under the ADA.

Your privacy is protected but your employer does have options to request more information about disabilities. Your employer’s request can only be made on issues relevant to your workplace performance.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulates what your employer can request. The basis of your employer’s request has to be on objective evidence that your essential job responsibilities have been impaired by a condition or else that condition has endangered you or other employees.

If your employer requests a medical certification or examination, you are still protected by certain confidentiality agreements. The EEOC provides resources for employers and employers alike to navigate disability-related practices.

As in the previous medical matters, your human resources department and government agencies can provide additional guidance.

Can You Write Your Absence Letter?

It is illegal for you to write your own doctor’s note. However, you may need to write an absence letter to your employer.

An absence letter provides a written record of your medical leave request. This will likely be in the form of an email. Companies that require their employees to provide an absence letter will outline their requirements in their employee handbook.

If you are asked to provide one, consult with your human resources department to clarify the details of an absence letter. When you write your letter make sure to include all necessary information.

Even if it is not required and you’re only out for a single day, an absence letter is still a good idea. It is a courteous and professional act towards your supervisor who will need to prepare for your absence. Save them the time and let them know as soon as possible that you need a sick day.

Final Tips

Taking time off is a normal part of professional life. When it comes to sick time, the best thing you can do for yourself is to know your employer’s policies ahead of time. Don’t let yourself be surprised when you are already sick.

If you handle an absence poorly, such as if you forgot to provide the proper notice and documentation, then your relationship with your employer could be negatively impacted.

Human resources and online information are your best tools to know your rights as an employee. Also, talk to your doctor about providing medical absence documents. Many healthcare providers have processes in place for these matters.

When you find yourself in a situation that requires a doctor’s note, make sure you have all the necessary information. Keep your privacy protected but also keep your employer accurately informed.

If your absence is to be extended or it affects your long-term employment, check with your employer and government agencies to ensure you are treated fairly.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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