Monday, February 21, 2011

Why requiring a doctor's excuse from employees when they are sick is a bad idea

Robin Shea over at Constagy, Brooks & Smith's blog has an interesting post on 5 reasons employers should not require a doctor's note when they call in sick for a minor illness (e.g., flu, cold, sore throat, etc). The 5 reasons are:

1-It screams to the employee "I don't trust you." Sure, there are some employees you don't trust, but why treat them all like abusers? Even employees who use a lot of sick time or paid time off may have legitimate reasons -- they may have genuine chronic health problems, or they may have young kids who get sick (my sons are grown now, but I certainly remember the days when our family was a veritable tag team of illness), or they may have been incredibly unlucky, or they may be expectant mothers with morning sickness.

2-It is a hassle to the employee and may actually retard recovery. I may legitimately have a miserable cold or sore throat, and I may get over it in 24 hours if I can sleep it off. But if I have to waste half of my sick day driving my sorry body over to the nearest walk-in clinic, waiting 2-3 hours with other sick, contagious people, to see a doctor who prescribes (surprise!) bed rest, and driving my sorry body back home, I may not get over it quite so quickly.

3-It is a hassle to our poor, overburdened health care providers. It's bad enough that these poor souls have to deal with the FMLA and HIPAA privacy, and now try to make some sense out of the "safe harbor" language under the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act. Do we really need to add to their grief by requiring them to see patients who are sick with illnesses that nothing can be done about anyway?

4-It is a hassle to HR and supervisors. Even though having employees out sick is a hassle, it is also an administrative hassle to parse every single request for a sick day.

5-It encourages sick, infectious people to come to work and make everyone else sick. 'Nuff said.

On the other hand, employers may want to request doctor's notes when there is good reason to be suspicious of a request for sick time. For example, if your employee is a teacher in the Madison, Wisconsin, public school system, you might want to ask for a doctor's note.


It's always nice to see defense counsel advising employers to do good things even though doing the opposite may not always be actionable in the legal system. Refreshing.

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