Requesting a doctor's note: be careful what you ask for

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"The rule of thumb is that it’s appropriate when the employer has legitimate reasons to doubt the validity of the employee’s absence. That depends on circumstance. Most people would acknowledge that intermittent employee absenteeism is normal, so it would not be appropriate, for example, if an employee is off sick one day in every seven months.”

If the employee has informed the organization of a long absence due to illness it may be appropriate to request further information. But tread carefully, it is only reasonable to request medical information as it relates to the employees duties and asking for specifics on the medical diagnosis or treatment is always a no go.

Bird said employers are only entitled to information that validates the legitimacy of the employee absence.

“The more extended nature of the absence the greater the impact to the organization,” she said.

“If the employee is gone for a day or two it’s likely not a great impact on the organization, if the employee is gone for six weeks that’s likely an impact on the business operations. As the impact grows the obligation for the employee to justify their absence similarly heightens. It’s very circumstantial but where an employee is absent for a long period of time the employer is likely entitled to a brief description of the nature of the illness to enable them to esure the employee’s absence is valid.”

Specific legislation differs between provinces, but as a guideline, the Alberta Human Rights Commission states that when requesting medical information the employer should consider the following:

  • whether the information requested is needed to determine the employee's job responsibilities;
  • whether the information is needed to accommodate the employee;
  • how the employee's privacy will be protected when the information has to be shared with other people; and
  • whether the request meets specifications of the collective agreement, if one is in place.

Clear policies are the best way to avoid legal issues down the track.

“A little bit of prevention goes a long way,” Bird said. “By that I mean a little bit of policy drafting goes a long way to assuring employers that they can adequately manage absences and can require medical documentation and that’s the take home message.”

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Requesting a doctor`s note: be careful what you ask for



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  • marilyn graves on 2016-01-08 11:39:11 AM

    I have a doctors note stating how many days and hours per week iam able to work can my company go against that.

  • Nettoya Williams on 2016-05-09 12:13:39 PM

    here you go!

  • Emily on 2016-06-30 8:49:44 AM

    What about if you hurt yourself at work and leave after doing a report, but are required every time to get a note to work the next day. Even one day missed from being ill you need a doctors note.

  • Bette on 2016-08-09 8:40:50 AM

    In Ontario, are there specific or expected wording required in a doctor's sick note or letter? Ex. date examined or therapy commenced and when a re-assessment will be performed?

  • Stephanie on 2016-09-06 5:04:27 PM

    What if an employee brings in a note...saying certain limitations but it just so happens it's during the week of your town fair......which makes you suspicious......and ds the employer can we call the doctor who issued these limitations on said note to confirm its the truth and he's not lying to get out of work to attend the festivities?

  • FC on 2016-09-10 2:04:28 PM

    You are allowed to confirm by contacting the doctor.
    But if it was only a day or two and it's not an habitual thing for that employee, I wouldn't bother....unless you've been looking for a reason to fire them...

  • Curiousnelly on 2016-09-29 7:49:07 PM

    Does this work the same during an employee's probation in Nova Scotia?

  • OnSecondThought on 2016-10-22 3:16:38 PM

    If the doctor has signed the note and you follow-up to confirm, then I think limit the questions to confirming the nature of the inability to work. To challenge the doctor's note otherwise could be construed as implying your belief that the doctor is lying. Most doctors are not going to lie about a patient's illness. But, they might not understand fully the type of work the employee does, or the kinds of accommodation that are possible. To me, being contagious is an important factor. Employees might be able to work (full of aspirin, decongestants, Pepto-Bismol etc.) but "do you want them in the office?" is another HR consideration. Our company has flu pandemic crisis management plans and it includes "do not come to work if you are sick".

  • Lilly on 2016-10-24 5:10:27 PM

    To: Emily
    "What about if you hurt yourself at work and leave after doing a report, but are required every time to get a note to work the next day."

    If the employee is injured at work, the employer will request Form 8 and FAF on subsequent MD assessments; it's a totally different type of documentation and just a doctor's note would not satisfy the employer, as the employer needs the info on employee's physical capabilities for the early and safe return to work process.

  • Ashly on 2016-11-08 3:37:31 PM

    Is it legal for my boss to ask me for a note saying I will never have another seizure at work before I am allowed to return to work?

  • Akata Marseu on 2016-11-14 9:47:57 AM

    Is it possible that any organization / company can have their own rules or regulations regarding a doctor's note even for just one sick day absent from work?......without a written documented policy proving to the employees of such requirements?

  • Sylvie on 2016-11-19 7:15:40 PM

    I work as a residential support worker. I
    have a doctor's note stating that a can do my 12 hr scheduled shift and unable to exceed that due to medical reasons.
    Now my employer is asking me to bring a questionnaire back to the doctor to get him to answer. I feel like most of the questions are personal. I Also feel bullied.
    What are my options if any.
    From Ontario Canada.

  • Shawn on 2016-11-26 12:06:39 AM

    Sylvie, if your established hours of work when you started was 12 hours then your employer cant exceed that without a written agreement between you two. If you have that agreement then your employer can ask for a bit more info to establish why the agreed contract will be broken, however there are questions they still cannot ask.

  • Amanda on 2016-12-15 1:49:45 AM

    I was sick for 3 days and provided proof of illness as they did not request a doctor's note I sent a picture of the prescription given to me. It shows the date time and doctors office. But a week later they decided to implement a new rule saying you must have a doctor's note. Am I legally required to give them a doctor's note a week after I called in sick?

  • Susan on 2017-01-10 4:56:02 AM

    I have been working in the same job for over 7 years I am pregnant and due in march and I have been sick since day one of my pregnancy how ever now we are in 2017 an I used to have 3 sick days to be paid for and 2 weeks vacation in summer time but when I tried to use my 2 sick days I've been told I will get just one sick day because I might leave any time and there is no vacation weeks to be paid for , do they have the right to do that if no who should I contact ?

  • Cheryl on 2017-01-23 11:07:05 AM

    My mother works for McDonald's in Ontario and if she calls in sick, her workplace expects a doctors note that same day. So then she's travelling to the doctors sick and then taking the 20.00 note to her workplace and probably infecting people with a virus. I feel this is absurd, and they shouldn't be asking unless she was going to be off for like 3 days. She doesnt get paid for sick days and she doesn't call in sick unless shes really sick.

  • Helen O'Toole on 2017-01-31 6:09:28 AM

    I have worked at a call center for 14 years and 7 months till present. I have severe anxiety of which I am under medication from my doctor but am still working full time 40 hours a week. In my work time frame I had 2 severe anxiety attacks that caused me to get a doctor's note saying due to this issue I cannot take on any more accounts or any more responsibility other than what I am doing which is taking inbound calls for 11 accounts. I brought the doctor's note in to work in July to my human resources rep and she said if management tries to put me in other accts to email her and she will get me removed. On Jan 27th they tried to put me on another account to answer emails and call a number to pass a case number to the rep of this account. I refused to do anymore as per my doctor's slip. I would like to know if my work place can go against my doctor's slip. I am a dedicated worker, never misses work, and I need my job since I am alone and pay all household bills on my own. I feel like they should not be putting me in this predicament when I have brought in a doctor's slip. I would really appreciate any feedback you have so I know where I stand. Please advise, It would be greatly appreciated. I am nearly 57 years old and can't lose this job and also can't take on any more stress. My days are stressful as it is. Thank you.

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