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

by |

"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.”

Top Legal and Benefits

Workplace weight loss: fit to fail?
Legal Eye: Your $200,000 Termination Risk
Expat benefits: do you have the right coverage?
Requesting a doctor`s note: be careful what you ask for



read more > 1 2

  • 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?

HRM Online forum is the place for positive industry interaction and welcomes your professional and informed opinion.

Name (required)
Comment (required)
By submitting, I agree to the Terms & Conditions