Horrible Company Policy Alert: Some Employers Require Doctor’s Notes for Sick Days

Have you ever thought to yourself, “This is a pretty good job, but it could be better, if only my employer would treat me more like a child”? If not, you’ll probably be less than impressed to hear that at some companies, only a doctor-excused absence will do, when it comes to using that sick time. (Whether or not you have any sick time to start out with, of course, is another thing entirely.)


(Photo Credit: mcfarlandmo/Flickr)

In a recent thread on Reddit, a user claimed that his friend’s workplace required a doctor’s note, if workers call in sick. The provided note — which may or may not be genuine — could serve as a template for harried GPs looking to save a little time while keeping their patients from losing their jobs over a sniffle:

doctors note

(Source: eagle66/Reddit)

Whether or not the actual note is real, the story is rooted in fact: generally speaking, in most places in the US, your employer can ask you for a doctor’s note to verify sick leave.

“Very little law exists to require employers to do anything or prohibit employers from doing anything with respect to paid sick leave,” writes Carolyn Buppert, MSN, JD, at Medscape. “No federal law addresses paid sick leave.”

The Department of Labor’s website also confirms that employers can ask workers to provide a sick note (although it urges companies to use discretion before requiring notes during a pandemic, when doctor’s resources are already stretched thin).

Even With a Note, No Guarantees

Furthermore, even if you have a doctor’s note, your job isn’t necessarily safe.

“If you’re out sick for a day with, say, a cold or something minor, you have zero legal protection,” writes legal blogger Donna Ballman, JD, at AOL Jobs. “The laws that protect you for illness only protect you if you have a serious medical condition or an illness relating to a disability. Doctor’s note or no, if you live anywhere but Montana you’re in an at-will state, meaning you can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. That includes being sick.”

Know Your Rights

But, that doesn’t mean that your employer can do whatever they want, with respect to sick leave requirements. If you suffer from a disability that requires you to be absent from work occasionally, your boss can’t require you to disclose details about your medical issue, unless it’s related to your job.

“Sure, asking for a doctor’s note is, for the most part, legal — but demanding a prying doctor’s note isn’t,” writes Aditi Mukherji, JD, at FindLaw. “Requiring too much information from employees for sick leave can land employers in legal trouble.”

Furthermore, Mukherji writes, the policy needs to be uniformly applied. If your boss hounds you for a sick note, but lets your co-worker off scot-free, he or she is breaking the law.

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