Should employers require a doctor’s note?

By: Michelle Higgins

Publication: Benefits & Compensation Regulatory Alert

Date Posted: 08/30/2021

Should employees need to supply a doctor’s note

Many employers have a policy of requiring employees to supply a doctor’s note to account for their use of sick leave. Of course, this type of policy is intended to discourage the abuse of paid time off, and it is legal, but if enforcing such a policy, consider the following:

  1. Employees may be sick enough to stay home, but not to see a doctor. This may be because of cost or because it simply isn’t necessary. Employees suffering from migraine headaches, mild flu, or even colds may not need to see a doctor to know they shouldn’t be at work.
  2. Employees who don’t intend to see a doctor may be more likely to come to work ill. The policy was probably not intended to encourage presenteeism, but if employees are coming to work ill, the company may soon have more than one sick employee in the workplace.
  3. Employees who needlessly visit the doctor may drive up health care costs. Should an employee with a cold really go to the doctor to justify an absence? Both employer- and employee-paid premiums could suffer at the hands of this policy.
  4. Policies must be enforced consistently. If a policy requires a doctor’s note after so many days of absence, require one from every employee who is gone for the requisite number of days. Failing to do so could set up a discrimination claim.

Essentially, the stricter the policy, the more problematic it could be. If a company requires a doctor’s note for a single sick day, it may find the policy difficult to enforce. On the other hand, it may be more reasonable to indicate that such a note may be required for extended absences (perhaps of three days or more). The key is to strike a balance between not encouraging employees to work sick but also making sure they’re not abusing the system.

Remember, if an employee is off work under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers should not ask for doctor’s notes for intermittent absences, as it’s akin to a recertification. There are limited circumstances in which an employer can ask an employee to recertify their need for FMLA Leave.

About the author
Michelle Higgins - Human Resources Editor

Michelle Higgins is an Associate Editor on the Human Resources Publishing Team and she creates content on a variety of employment-related topics including benefits, compensation, overtime, wage deductions, exempt/nonexempt employees, health and retirement plans, independent contractors, and child labor.

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