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HRM CA | 10 Apr 2015, 08:00 AM Agree 0
“There are surely better ways of wasting your tax dollars,” says one doctor, reprimanding an over-diligent employer.
  • Joanne | 10 Apr 2015, 10:10 AM Agree 0
    I think this subject has been debated to death. Most employers request medical notes after 3 days absence unless there is an attendance problem. Few and far between ask for a medical note each and every time an employee is absent.
  • Bruce | 10 Apr 2015, 10:30 AM Agree 0
    The pendulum always "overswings". Policies cannot and should not replace common sense and are often used as a security blanket by employers/managers.

    If there are absenteeism or leave issues with an employee then as a good employer/manager, deal with it! That's why you're paid the big bucks. That is management 101!

    A successful, productive and engaged workforce is one where trust exists and employees respect the employer and the rules when applied with common sense. I concur with the doctor and say that any sick leave problems are actually signs of a greater issue.
  • Tanya Sieliakus, CHRP | 10 Apr 2015, 11:44 AM Agree 0
    Doctors' Nova Scotia asked me to write on this very topic (for the Feb/Mar 2015 publication), but from the employers' perspective:

    The Polarizing Practice of Doctors' Notes

    The issue of employers’ demanding sick notes - and sometimes after missing only a single day of work – is hotly debated and highly polarized. On the one hand, doctors comment that the practice is stressing an already overstressed system. On the other, employers say they need doctors to verify the reasons their employees give for their absences. This HR practitioner is not certain that either side are singly right.

    Employers are not doctors. After an employee has been out of the workplace because of a serious illness or injury a doctor’s note is required to determine if the employee is “fit” to return to work and/or to substantiate a physical or other accommodation. Unfortunately, employees sometimes do not understand or agree to the restrictions placed on them and a doctor’s written opinion is a necessary means to ensure that the employee will be safe on the job.

    Too often, unfortunately, a note is not a matter of health and safety rather employers request notes as means to drive behaviour; that is, to address the offending behaviour of employees who are chronically and without legitimate cause absent from the workplace. The practice of asking for notes in this instance must stop.

    When an employee has an “observable” illness or injury asking for a doctor’s note is akin to telling the employee you suspect they are lying. Employers need to place more trust in their employees and stop the unnecessary practice of asking for a doctor’s note to substantiate what should be clear to any reasonable person.

    Then there is the practice of employers asking for doctors’ notes to substantiate absences for “discretionary” (or invisible) illnesses or injuries. This HR practitioner believes that notes will always be required but if employers had a better-considered attendance management system the practice could be significantly curtailed.

    Attendance programs should manage absenteeism and minimize absences by approaching attendance in a concerned and positive manner, as a matter of operational excellence. Most attendance programs have progressive thresholds of discipline. I suggest that employers stop requesting doctor’s notes for discretionary illnesses or injuries until the employee reaches the point of possible termination. Further, employers should be trending attendance patterns. Instead of insisting “Bob” provide a doctor’s note because he has had 5 occurrences of absenteeism so far this year instead look at Bob’s attendance in comparison to his immediate peers and only if Bob’s attendance record is egregious compared to his peers should his employer ask for a note.

    Concomitantly, doctors need to understand that employers simply cannot take all employees at their word, especially when an employee’s attendance situation has become egregious. Doctors must remember that employers are held to obligations under the Human Rights Act, and that to avoid terminating an employee with chronic attendance issues who might have a disability, thereby creating significant human rights and legal issues, the employer must show due diligence and have the employee provide medical substantiation for their absences.

    Finally, doctors must hold their patients accountable. Too many doctors have the reputation of writing whatever note the patient wants; this practice must stop, just as employers’ practice of asking for unnecessary notes must stop.

    Tanya Sieliakus is co-owner of HR pros Inc., a niche HR and safety consulting firm serving the Maritimes. Tanya has her national CHRP designation and is a certified diversity trainer and safety auditor. Tanya sits, and has sat, on a wide array of boards including: Entrepreneurs with Disabilities, TEAM Works Cooperative, the Human Resources Association of Nova Scotia, the East Coast Music Association, Canadian Association of Family Enterprise, the Epilepsy Association of NS, and the Royal United Services Institute. Tanya can be reached at
  • Laura | 10 Apr 2015, 12:53 PM Agree 0
    Some employees stay home sick when they are not. They get paid for being sick and in some cases the employer questions their credibility. Maybe this employee was one of those employees. My experience is that the vast majority of employee are NOT asked for notes for short absences and the ones that are have some sort of questionable history.
  • Kate | 10 Apr 2015, 12:55 PM Agree 0
    Sick notes are usually only requested when an employee has had numerous absences due to "illness". How else is an employer supposed to hold employees' accountable for claiming frequent "sick" time when medical issues are given as the reason? Most often if an employee is rarely absent or the sickness is "obvious", an employer will not require a note. It's when an employee has chronic absenteeism when the employer requires formal medical support to explain the absence.
  • Ginger Roanoke | 10 Apr 2015, 01:07 PM Agree 0
    I get the Dr's point of view....however, how are employers supposed to deal with those employees who call in "sick" every Monday or who were denied a vacation request only to become "sick".
  • Daphne | 15 Apr 2015, 12:13 PM Agree 0
    Tanya has covered everything I was going to write, so I'll just write this: I agree with Tanya. Well-written, succinct, and addresses the very real challenges employers face when managing employee attendance / absenteeism in the workplace.

    I believe that doctors are doing their patients a disservice when they write whatever their patients ask them to write. In my opinion, doctors have a duty to be curious and, for example, if they are seeing their patient for the third time in as many months and the patient previously only came in for annual check-ups, the onus is on the doctor to make inquiries and administer the appropriate tests to identify what is causing the patient's deteriorating health. Case in point: I encountered this very situation a few years ago. An employee's absences became excessive, so s/he was placed on the Attendance Management Program and required to have a medical certificate completed for any absences over the next six months. After her third absence (and therefore third visit to her doctor to have the medical certificate completed), her doctor decided to send her for some tests. The result? The employee had cancer and needed to commence treatment. The employer backed off from managing her absenteeism and provided the necessary accommodation while the employee underwent treatment.

    Had the employer not required the employee to submit completed medical certificates, it is anyone's guess how much longer the employee would have gone without obtaining medical care.

    Each case must be assessed on its own merits and requiring a medical note for every employee who meets a certain threshold is overzealous and inflexible. The nature of employee and labour relations must remain flexible, but the employer, the employee, and the health care provider all play a role in ensuring the most appropriate decisions are made for the employee's health and continued employment.
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