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Can My Employer Request a Doctor’s Note After Taking Time Off?

March 22nd, 2022
Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. Protect Employees’ Right to Sick Leave.

It is inevitable that, at some point, you will need to take time off from work for an illness. Depending on the circumstances, you may only need to stay home for a day, if you have relatively mild symptoms that may be the case; or several days or more if your symptoms are more severe.

From a legal perspective, your employer is legally allowed to ask why you are taking time off, and they may request that you provide a doctor’s note for the days that you were absent.

However, some restrictions may apply, and your employer may not ask for specific information about your health condition or other personal information as this would be a violation of laws that protect patient confidentiality. If your employer’s request for a doctor’s note infringes on your right to privacy or is not consistent with your company’s policy, you are urged to contact a skilled employment lawyer as soon as possible.

When Can My Employer Ask Me for a Doctor’s Note?

While your employer may request a doctor’s note any time you take a sick day from work, you must have taken off three consecutive days where an illness was cited as the reason for taking leave from work. In other words, your employer may not ask you to provide a doctor’s note every time you take a single day off. In addition, they may not request a doctor’s note from you for taking a day off but require other employees to provide the same documentation for taking a sick day.

A doctor’s note should only provide basic information about the patient, the date and time that the patient was examined, and the dates that the physician recommends that the employee should stay home. If the employer is concerned that you may be suffering from a contagious disease, the employer may request a doctor’s note stating that you are no longer contagious before you return to work.

Federal employment laws protect the rights of employees and restrict the medical information that they are required to provide. A few examples of these laws are listed below:

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

Under the ADA, an employer may not request information about an employee’s health to determine whether they have a disability or inquire about the severity of the disability unless it is related to the job.

Examination and inquiries that are considered acceptable include voluntary medical exams or medical histories that are part of an employee health program.

The employer may also ask about the employee’s abilities if it directly relates to their ability to perform job-related tasks. For example, if the job requires the employee to be on their feet for an extended period of time, and an employee who is otherwise qualified would need to take regular breaks, the employer may request a doctor’s note that justifies the accommodation. The ADA applies in the following circumstances:

  •  The employee has a physical or mental impairment that causes significant limitations in one or more major life activities.
  • The employee has a record of having a physical or mental impairment.
  • The employee is regarded as having such an impairment.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

If you are seeking medical leave, either to care for yourself or a loved one, you may be eligible for FMLA leave, which provides unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks. In order to be eligible for FMLA leave, you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months, and worked 1,250 hours during the previous 12 months. In addition, you must work at a location where the employer has a minimum of 50 employees within 75 miles.

You may be required to provide certification from your physician, which explains the reason why you are taking leave, and the expected date of your return to work. Prior to returning to work, you will also be expected to provide another certification from your physician stating that you are medically able to come back to work. The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division enforces the FMLA, and its employer’s guide provides the following:

  • If a medical certification is required, the employer must notify employees.
  • The notification must be included in the Rights and Responsibilities Notice, which must be given to the employee within five business days of the employer becoming aware of the employee’s request for FMLA leave.
  • The employer must make the employee aware of the consequences associated with a failure to provide a complete certification.
  • If the employee does not provide the required certification, the request for leave may be denied.
  • Employees are required to submit their medical certification within 15 calendar days after the employer’s request unless circumstances make that impossible, in which case the employer may agree to allow for additional time.
  • If information is missing on the medical certification, the employer must give the employee the opportunity to fill in those gaps.
  • The employer may contact the health care provider, but only to confirm or clarify information provided on the certification. A Human Resources (HR) professional, a leave administrator, or a member of management should be the one to contact the health care provider directly, not the employee’s direct supervisor.

What Are the HIPAA Privacy Rules?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which was passed by Congress in 1996, is a federal law that established national standards to protect private information about patients’ health from being shared without the patients’ consent. The HIPAA privacy rule states that an employer may request a doctor’s note from an employee, but only if it is necessary for an acceptable reason, like sick leave, Workers’ Compensation, or health insurance. Health care providers may not share private information about a patient’s health with an employer without their consent.

Can I Lose My Job If I Provide a Doctor’s Note?

Pennsylvania has at-will employment, which means that employers have the freedom to terminate someone for taking sick leave, even if they followed the company policy and provided a doctor’s note. You may take legal action against the employer if you were unfairly terminated. If the employer has documentation that you took an excessive number of sick days, which impacted your performance, it is within the employer’s rights to terminate you, even if you provided a doctor’s note and have not used FMLA. However, the employer may not ask you to provide specific details about the nature of the illness, as this can result in a discrimination claim being filed against your employer. In addition, an employer may not terminate someone who has filed for Workers’ Compensation benefits, or if the injured worker has become disabled, reasonable accommodations can be made for the employee.

What if My Employer Does Not Accept My Doctor’s Note?

While every company has its own policies when it comes to sick leave, which means that the employer can establish its own rules for illness-related absences. However, generally speaking, if you provide a doctor’s note after taking a sick day, the employer is legally required to accept the note. The only exception is if you are using FMLA leave, which allows you to take up to 12 weeks off for medical reasons. The employer may not retaliate against you for taking this FMLA leave.

Can My Employer Request a Doctor’s Note for COVID-Related Time Off?

Should employers be able to require employees to provide a doctor’s note or proof of a positive COVID test if an employee calls out sick? Keeping in mind that the coronavirus pandemic has created labor shortages in many places, employers may be justifiably concerned about being able to stay open while the pandemic continues. According to a recent Statista survey, close to 60 percent of employees between 18 and 30 years old took up to five sick days in the previous year, and that number has risen significantly in recent months.

While an employer may ask you to provide information about the doctor who instructed you to quarantine, the employer should not contact the health care provider directly and ask that they verify the legitimacy of the positive test result. According to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, employers are required to provide certain employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for COVID-related reasons. However, unless they decide to provide this type of paid sick leave on their own, most large companies are exempt from paying sick leave that is related to COVID-19.

Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. Protect Employees’ Right to Sick Leave

If your employer requested a doctor’s note for a sick day or asked you to provide personal health information, do not hesitate to contact one of our Philadelphia employment lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 215-569-1999 or fill out our online form. Located in Philadelphiaand Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients in South Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.

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