4 Guiding Principles for Employers when Requesting a Doctor's Note

There are many factors to consider when deciding whether or not to request an employee to provide a doctor’s note.   The average absenteeism rate is approximately 9 days per year and has cost the Canadian economy just over 16 billion in 2012 according to The Conference Board of Canada.  

Push-back from doctors who don’t want to give out sick notes for absentee employees is an on-going publicized concern from provincial health authorities.  While it may be unreasonable to ask for an employee to provide a note for a one-time day away, situations may arise that require proof of a legitimate medically required absence. 

Having an illness or sick-leave policy in place is your first line of defence when it comes to protecting yourself against the abuse of sick days.  Employees, who have a clear picture of what your expectations are from the start, are less likely to make it up as they go along.

If you still find yourself wondering if you can or should be requesting a doctor’s note, there are a few factors you will need to consider:

1)      Legal – What laws do I need to consider?

Privacy Legislation - Providing parameters to employers as to how the medical information of the employees is collected, used, disclosed, and stored to ensure confidentiality.  For example, an employer may not ask a medical professional “Is the employee contagious?” but rather “Does the employee have conditions which may pose a hazard to others at the workplace, and if so, what precautions are required?"

Human Rights Act –It is against the law, and considered discriminatory to dismiss or discipline an employee who is on disability leave.

Common Law and Workplace Accommodation - Managing culpable (employees fault not to come to work) or innocent (a true illness/injury) absenteeism, and approved leaves (such as parental or maternity) may require doctor’s notes to substantiate conditions, such as whether or not they are following the terms of a treatment plan, as part of an attendance management or return to work agreement.

2)      Impact – What is the impact of the employee’s absence?  

The longer the absence the greater the impact and cost it has on the business.  The cost increases more when absenteeism is left unmanaged by the employer.  As an organization, you will need to determine how the work will be completed, what coverage is available, and if hiring another employee is necessary in the employee’s absence. 

3)      Circumstance – What are the circumstances of the absence? 

Here you are trying to follow the attendance management policy if you have one and understand the legitimate medical reason for the employee’s absence, confirm whether or not the employee is entitled to any type of pay, the expected duration of the absence, and any reasonable accommodation required.  This can only be decided by the employer requesting a doctor’s note.  Employers may also need to consider the access to medical resources and physicians available to employees to provide such documentation and who is responsible to pay for the costs associated with requested doctor’s notes.

4)      Benefits – Is the employee entitled to any leave or disability benefits? 

This could be benefits for legislated leaves with employment standards, stipulated by a collective agreement, workers compensation if the illness/injury is job related, or other disability insurance provided as part of an employer’s group benefits plan for short and long term disability.  Read your policies and agreements to understand the qualifying periods to apply for benefits and medical documentation required.  Some organizations have moved away from providing a doctor’s note within a set amount of days and to use the doctor’s notes provisions stated by the disability benefits insurer. 

The moral of the story is this...

Do the right thing in the circumstance based on all the guiding principles in my blog.  There is no one size that fits all depending on all these factors.  Each decision made needs to be handled with the utmost care and attention which speaks to your workplace culture, core values, and supports the morale you want in your organization.

Here’s How I Can Help

If you need help reviewing your Absenteeism, Disability Management, or Sick Leave Policy, I‘m your girl! Contact me as my first 30 minute consult is free.