When To Get A Doctor’s Note For Missing Work

By Chris Kolmar
Apr. 2, 2023

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Summary. Providing a doctors not to your employer for when you miss work will determine by the severity of your illness, your company policy, and any local and state laws that may require it. Due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), your health care provider will only disclose relevant information in your note.

If you get sick as an adult and plan to take time off from work, the severity of your illness or the policies of your employer can require a medically excused absence from a healthcare provider.

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.

Key Takeaways:

  • When you should get a doctor’s note depends on the severity of your situation, the policy of your employer, and government regulations.

  • HIPPA, FMLA, and the ADA all determine what a doctor note’s note can reveal.

  • An absence letter provides a written letter of your medical leave request.

  • If you have any questions, always check in with your human resources department or representative regarding when to get a doctor’s note.

When To Get A Doctor’s Note For Missing Work

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.

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.

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.

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.

Steps To Getting A Doctor’s Note

Though every organization will have slightly different policies, there are a few general steps you can take to receive a doctor’s note for work.

  1. Evaluate your situation. First off, you should consider whether you think you are in a situation that needs a doctor’s note. Ask yourself how long do you think you will need time off? Is this a serious situation and could lead to further complications down the line? Knowing this information will be very helpful when navigating your company’s policies.

  2. Review your company’s policy.Before you go off and seek out a doctor’s note, review what your company expects in your situation. Either consult your employee handbook or reach out to someone in human resources. Sometimes your supervisor might even know what to do.

  3. Request a note from your doctor or medical professional. This may or may not require you to book an appointment. If you are already sick and need to visit the doctor, simply ask for a note while you are there. However, if you are sick, but not at the doctor, you should call them to see if they will send you one without an appointment.

  4. Submit your note. Every company has different policies, so follow yours precisely and make sure you hand your note into the appropriate people.

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.

Additional Tips for Getting A Doctor’s Note

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.

Doctors Note for Work FAQ

  1. Can you get fired for taking a sick day?

    Yes, an employer can fire an employee because under federal law, there is no law that protects sick people from being fired. When you are an at-will employee, you can be fired for taking too many sick days. There is also no federal law that requires employees to provide sick leave to their employees, but a number of states do have laws that require it.

  2. Can I call out sick without a doctor’s note?

    It depends on your companies policy if your employer requires a doctors note to call out sick. Some employers may require it even if you miss part of the shift but some may only require it if you have to take more than one day off. Other employers may not require one at all. Check your company’s policy to determine if you need a doctor’s note.

  3. Is your employer allowed to ask why you are calling in sick?

    Yes, your employer can ask questions to why you are calling in sick for work. You don’t have to provide details as to why you are calling out, but your boss is allowed to ask what is wrong. Most times they are just concerned for you and your health and have no ill-intent.

    If you reason for calling out of work is a medical condition that is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is protected and you do not have to answer. Your employer can, however, ask about when you are returning to work.

  4. How sick is too sick for work?

    You are too sick for work if you have a fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. You should be fever free for 24 hours before returning to work. You should also not go to work if you are any flu symptoms such as chills, cough, or sore throat. If you have a family-member experiencing these symptoms, you may have already contracted the flu and should be on the lookout for symptoms in yourself.


  1. Nakase Wade – 12 Things You Need to Know About The Doctor’s Note For Work Law

  2. U.S. Office of Personnel Management – Personal Sick Leave

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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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Topics: Life At Work