Ask the ExpertCategory: QuestionsI am aware of the employers right to gather more medical information if we receive a note from a doctor that is ambiguous. I am wondering how far can the employer go in gathering information. I have recently had two employees state that they are unable to work a full week. They medically require one day off. Do I have any further recourse I can pursue as the employer?
hri_Admin Staff asked 4 years ago
3 Answers
Glenn Demby Staff answered 4 years ago

RULE: You can ask employees for medical information you need to carry out a legitimate employment function as long as you don’t ask for more than the info necessary to carry out the function.
APPLICATION TO A ONE-DAY/WEEK ABSENCE: You can ask for a doctors note verifying the employee’s need to take a medical absence.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY “AMBIGUOUS”? A note need only say something like “X is sick and needs to take a day/week off.”So if you’re looking for more information, like a diagnosis, i.e., why the employee is sick, treatment information or any other details about the medical case, you’re out of luck.
But if by “ambiguous” you mean the note doesn’t even verify that the employee is sick, you CAN ask the employee for clarifying information and discipline him/her for refusing to provide it. Remember, just verification of illness, no case details.
LONGER ABSENCES & RETURN TO WORK: You have more leeway to verify need for longer absences. And when employees are returning to work from long absences, the zone of privacy shrinks even more to the extent medical information about the employee’s capabilities is necessary to determine when and to what position he/she can return and with what accommodations.
Hope that helps and email me directly if you want to continue the conversation off line. glennd@bongarde.com

Monique Jamieson replied 4 years ago

Thank you. By ambiguous I mean all it says is ‘they need to remain home one day per week to manage their illness.’

Glenn Demby Staff answered 4 years ago

Hi. Apologize for not noticing your follow up clarification until now. Basically, the note you received is, IMO, enough to verify that the employee needed to take a day off for a medical illness. As long as the employee returned the next day, you’re not allowed to ask for further medical information. But if this develops into a pattern, you may be in a position to ask for clearer confirmation of illness and a prognosis–although not a diagnosis. Glenn

Glenn Demby Staff answered 4 years ago

Me again. I just realized that I missed a key point–that the employee wants to take a day off EACH WEEK. That’s a bit different because it amounts not to a medical excuse but a request for an accommodation. Under human rights laws, you DO have a right to request more detailed verification of a medical disability requiring an accommodation in work schedules, HR policies, etc. So, no, that letter you got from the doctor is NOT adequate and you can request more specific and detailed info verifying the need for the accommodation. But be careful. Accommodation requests are pretty sensitive and I’d strongly suggest seeking counsel from a lawyer before making your next move. Sorry it took me so long to figure this out but I hope this will still help. Glenn