When can you ask an employee for a doctor’s note? Specifically, can you ask for a doctor’s note to pay out a sick day?
Yes. Here’s a quick summary of the ground rules for doctor’s notes. (Click on the link for more information and Model Tools about the particular item.)
General Rule: Under privacy laws, you can’t collect medical information about an individual without the person’s consent. Exception: Employers are allowed to collect medical information about their employees when it’s reasonably necessary to carry out essential employment functions, including via asking for a doctor’s note. Examples:
You CAN Ask for a Doctor’s Note:
- To confirm that an employee who calls in sick really is sick and thus entitled to sick pay;
- To confirm that an employee in an attendance management program who calls in sick really is sick;
- To confirm that employees required to undergo rehab, anger management and other employment-related treatment plans are following the terms of those programs;
- To verify that an employee who claims disability under the organization’s disability plan really has a disabling injury;
- To confirm that an employee who requests an unpaid medical leave of absence really has an illness for which leave is allowed or required;
- To confirm that an employee requesting accommodation for a medical condition really has such a condition; and/or
- To determine an ill or injured employee’s capabilities during the return-to-work process.
Conversely, asking employees for a doctor’s note isn’t allowed when there’s no employment-related justification to have that information. Examples:
You CAN’T Ask for a Doctor’s Note:
- As a matter of course or principle any time an employee calls in sick;
- To harass the employee; and
- To confirm a suspicion that an employee is hiding an illness when she claims she’s fine.
Information You Can & Can’t Ask for
Even when it’s justifiable to ask for a doctor’s note, you must ask only for minimum amount of information needed to meet your employment-related purpose.
|Glenn Demby is a lawyer and contributor of HR Insider.|
In cases of short absences due to illness, you don’t have a right to insist on any details about the employee’s condition. A one sentence note from the doctor stating that “Employee X is sick” is generally enough.
Even in cases where an employee’s medical condition is relevant to the employment-related purpose, e.g., during the return-to-work or accommodation process, there are limits to the medical information you can request.
The basic rule: You can ask the doctor for the employee’s prognosis but not diagnosis, i.e., when she can return but not what condition she actually has.