When an employee takes time off due to sickness, he may have to provide a doctor's note to prove he was really sick. An employer may legally require a doctor's note as long as the policy doesn't infringe on workers' rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination. An employer also may ask for a doctor's note as part of the process of accommodating an employee's disability.
Uniform Application of Policy
Employers in the United States have the right to ask for a doctor's note when employees take time off for illness. However, this policy must be applied equally to all employees. For example, an employer may require employees to provide a doctor's note whenever they are out for more than three consecutive days due to illness. However, an employer may not require one employee to provide a note each time he takes one sick day and let other employees take sick time without asking for a note at all.
Contents of Doctor's Note
In general, a doctor's note may only state that the physician saw the named employee on a particular date and time and list any dates that the employee is barred from working due to illness. If the doctor's note contains more details, it may violate laws regarding patient confidentiality. If the employer is concerned about contagious disease, he may request a doctor's note stating the employee is not contagious before allowing her to return to work. However, the employer must be able to prove that this is a business necessity.
Doctor's Notes and Accommodations
If an employee needs special accommodations because of a disability, employers may ask for a doctor's note verifying the employee's disability and need for accommodations. This request is legitimate if the disability is not readily apparent. For example, an employer cannot ask for a doctor's note proving an employee needs ramp access to the building if the employee is already in a wheelchair when she makes the request. The employer must use this information to determine appropriate accommodations for the employee and may not use it as a basis to discriminate against or fire the employee.
Privacy Laws Under HIPPA
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act sets national standards for the protection of privacy regarding medical records and other personal health information. It is not generally a violation of HIPAA to request a doctor's note if an employer needs information about sick leave, health insurance or workers’ compensation. However, in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer must keep medical information separate from the employee's personnel file.
Jack Ori has been a writer since 2009. He has worked with clients in the legal, financial and nonprofit industries, as well as contributed self-help articles to various publications.