[YWH S1E16] A Conversation About Requiring a Dr.'s Note from an Employee
Your alarm goes off, you roll out of bed to get ready for work, but you just don’t feel well. So you call in sick and go back to bed. Hopefully, your boss simply states: “Sorry to hear you’re sick, I hope you feel better.” But for some that might not be the case. I once had a supervisor that would question me and make me feel bad about calling in sick to the point that I would come to work sick just so I didn’t have to deal with it. Conversely, there are some team members that are so dedicated to their job they’ll come to work sick because they’re just not “that sick”, or so they think. Employees that come to work sick spread germs creating a domino effect, and next thing you know half the office is sick. Then those team members come to work sick continuing the vicious cycle over the course of the next month or so causing some to get sick multiple times. Dedication is great, but please, if you’re sick, STAY HOME!
I don’t call out sick very often, but on the occasions that I have and had to do so for multiple consecutive days, I’ve obtained a doctor’s note to provide to my employer as I know the requirements under California law. However, what if you don’t know your state’s requirements, or your particular company doesn’t have a policy regarding doctor’s notes? Should you ask an employee for a note? If so, under what circumstances? If your State has a particular law governing doctor’s notes, then supervisors must know and follow it. If not, you follow your particular company’s policy, or how they have handled it in the past which is an HR precedent. However, if you do find yourself in a position that you just don’t know because nothing has been established at either the State or company level, a good rule of thumb would be to request a doctor’s note from an employee once they have called out sick for 3 consecutive shifts. Once requested the employee should not return to work until the doctor’s note is received and indicates the date in which they may return, with or without restrictions. It is important to understand that an employer may ask for a doctor’s note that indicates the date, or dates, an employee has been excused from work and the date in which they may return, either specifically indicated or implied by the date range excused on the doctor’s note. An employer may not ask additional questions leading to more specific details surrounding the illness and the employee doesn’t have to answer such questions as the specifics of their illness are protected information. The only exception would be an employer’s right to request a medical certification in conjunction with an employee’s request under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Too often I have worked with clients that have an employee who calls out sick a lot and as a result, wants to demand a doctor’s note the next time they call out sick or wants to terminate them. In some at-will states without specific laws, one might be able to do so under certain circumstances, however, it is not recommended. The best course of action is to manage the behavior. If an employee has excessive absences, begin a coaching process, more commonly known as progressive discipline. Employers get burned when they fail to engage in conversations regarding an employee’s behavior. Conversations with mutual resolution can help many employers dodge a bullet when it comes to illnesses that fall under some sort of job protection. California employers need to be extra cautious due to Assembly Bill 1522, which mandates Paid Sick Leave for all employees that have worked at least 30 or more days within a year. Due to this law, California employers are advised to disengage from any conversations with, or discipline of, employees that call out sick until their Paid Sick Leave benefits are exhausted. Otherwise, the State may consider it retaliation for the employee’s use of their paid sick leave benefits as allowed under the law.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your employees with excessive absences. Treating them like an adult by working towards a mutually beneficial resolution will help your employee remain engaged and productive. If you must ask for a doctor’s note make sure you always follow established State laws, company policies, and precedents. Absent any formal laws or policies, just remember, 3 consecutive missed shifts = okay to ask for a doctor’s note.
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