Do you have an injury or illness that might make you miss work once in a while? Well, you’re not alone.

About 58% of Americans below 30 took an average of 5 days of sick leave, while 16% of them took over 10 days of sick leave. This is even more common in the states that offer paid sick leave.

Taking time off for illnesses is normal and should be encouraged, although some people take advantage of this and call in sick when they don’t want to go in to work.

Still, as a human, your body is bound to break down for one reason or the other, especially if you work round the clock with no breaks, and you haven’t quite figured out the perfect work-life balance.

WHY YOU NEED A DOCTOR’S NOTE

No matter how generally healthy you can be in your organization, there is a good chance that you will need a doctor’s note one day. It could be a cold, something more serious, or you may just need some personal time off work.

Regardless, a lot of companies and employers require you to submit a doctor’s note explaining why you need to miss work, especially if it takes you away from your post without warning.

Fig 1: Image showing an example of a doctor’s note. Source: The Balance Careers

Different companies have their requirements, and if your illness is not considered a serious issue, you may only need a letter requesting time off.

However, many employers will require you to send in a doctor’s note for cases that will keep you out of work for longer than a few days.

Depending on your location, these requirements will vary, but in the end, a doctor’s note is something every employee should be familiar with in case you need one later.

SITUATIONS WHERE YOU NEED A DOCTOR’S NOTE

There are several cases where you would need to provide a doctor’s note, but these cases vary depending on the existing rules in your company.

So, before you go about getting one, you have to be familiar with your organization’s requirements.

However, the following cases will most likely require a doctor’s note

  • Contagious disease
  • An illness that renders you unable to work
  • Absence from work for more than 7 days
  • Long-term illnesses
  • Mental stress or anxiety (can be work-related)

Apart from the rules governing these policies in the organization, the employers are also subject to state or federal laws, union rules, or even employee contracts.

So, to make things easier for you, ensure that you follow every standard and adhere to every company rule concerning sick days and even submission dates.

HOW TO GET A DOCTOR’S NOTE

A good percentage of the people that request sick leaves in the US say that they fake it, sometimes several times a year.

As understanding as the situation is – because sometimes you just need to get away from it all, right? – you still need a doctor’s note to hand in at work. So, there are several websites where you can get fake doctor’s notes and letters of absence to fool your employer.

As easy as that sounds, it often backfires, especially if the note is discovered to be fake.

This can lead to a potential problem, so your best bet is to get a real doctor’s note if you’re really sick.

The process doesn’t take too much time, and depending on your company’s rules, you may not have to send it in before your time off.

STEPS TO GETTING A DOCTOR’S NOTE

Take note of your company’s policies

This step is the first step before you go ahead to get a doctor’s note. Those policies regarding sick leave are what guide you on what you need to get a correct doctor’s note.

Generally, employers can request a doctor’s note from you if you intend to miss work due to an illness, but that is as far as they can go. They have no right to your private medical information.

In some other companies, you may be allowed to take time off without supplying a doctor’s note as long as you don’t stay away longer than a specified time.

For example, you can call in sick and take time off as long as you don’t stay longer than a few days or a week. Then, in that case, you may be asked to bring in a doctor’s note only if you stay longer.

Most times, these policies are laid out in your employee handbook, but you can make inquiries in your HR department to make sure.

Fig 2: Chart showing States in the US that offer paid sick leave. Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

Make an appointment with your doctor

You don’t think you can get a doctor’s note without seeing a real doctor, do you? You have to set up an appointment with your doctor or any doctor attached to your workplace. You can do that over the phone or an email if you feel sick.

You may need to go in physically for your appointment, but that isn’t always necessary, especially if they can easily diagnose your condition over the phone. It is best to do this immediately you feel sick, and before your condition gets worse, so you can get a diagnosis and treatment.

When you see the doctor, you will get a proper diagnosis and treatment, and then the doctor will decide if you are fit enough to return to work. Make sure you’re honest with your doctor about your symptoms, even if it’s a supposedly minor issue.

You can even ask your doctor directly to give you a note excusing you for a few days if you aren’t feeling up to work. Your doctor’s signature is what validates a doctor’s note, so even if you don’t go in directly to see them, you can ask that they mail it to your workplace.

Place a request for the doctor’s note

When you call your doctor’s office to set up your appointment, you can ask there and then for the note or, you can make that request when you go in for your appointment. Although, some doctors don’t hand out notes unless they have seen and diagnosed you to ascertain your condition. But, if you can’t report to work, they can have it faxed or mailed to your office for you.

Another alternative is to ask for the note after your appointment. You can request one if your diagnosis shows that you aren’t fit for work for a few days. You can submit your note before or after you miss work, but that depends on your employer’s requirements. You only need to inform your doctor of what details you need to be included in the note.

Ask directly for the note if you are admitted to the hospital

If your condition is serious enough to warrant a stay in the hospital, you can ask for a doctor’s note to be mailed to your office. You don’t necessarily have to send it in while you’re admitted, except you know how long you’ll be away.

It is best to contact your employer when you’re sick, but you can go back to work with your doctor’s note as proof of your absence from work.

It is a must note that you are under no obligation to give further details about the conditions surrounding your illness, especially your private medical data. So, you can decide to keep the sensitive details of your illness private, and they have no right to demand them.

Complete any form your company requires on your return

Apart from your doctor’s note, there are other forms you might be required to fill out when you return to work. Some companies have a return form that you fill when you resume work that states your reasons for missing work and any documents that show your reasons for absence, like your doctor’s note. These requirements are not the same everywhere, but they follow the same principle.

For example, Canadian residents are required to provide an official medical certificate for protracted sick leave within the first 15 days after they resume. Other places may not be as lenient with the submission period, so you should follow your company’s rules concerning this.

Also, you are obligated to specify any limitations you may have from your illness. So, if you can’t do any strenuous work or lift heavy items for some time after your illness, you should put those down in either your doctor’s note or your return form.

Fig 3: Information covered by HIPAA. Source: Varonis

BEST TIME TO SUBMIT YOUR DOCTOR’S NOTE

When you take sick leave, the notion is that you’re too sick to come into work for at least a few days, so many companies will allow you to send in your fit note when you resume as long as you called in or sent an email with an absence letter.

On the other hand, some workplaces require you to send in your note or request permission before you take time off.

So, it all depends on your employer. The best practice is to find out the policies your employers use and act accordingly. Your doctor’s note can protect you in cases where your employer may attempt to punish you for the time off in opposition to the laws protecting sick or injured employees.

WHAT YOU NEED TO INCLUDE IN YOUR DOCTOR’S NOTE

According to the HIPAA privacy rule, your employer does not have any legal right to your private medical records and information without your permission.

So, any information concerning your reason for taking sick leave must fall into the details your doctor can disclose. Anything more and your doctor could be breaking some laws.

All your doctor needs to disclose in your doctor’s note is evidence that you visited the hospital when you were sick, how much time you need off work, and if you need any special modifications for your recovery and resumption.

For example, you might need to reduce your workload or work hours for the first few weeks of your return, depending on how bad your illness was.

Your doctor also does not need to specify exactly what is wrong with you. For example, if your employer needs to know if your illness is contagious, rather than state exactly what you have, your doctor should only state whether it is contagious or not. Also, that information is only relevant if your employer can show that it is a stipulation for your work.

Under no circumstance is your employer allowed to use the contents of your doctor’s note as a reason for firing or discriminating against you. Your doctor’s note protects you from such, and it can be used to prevent these from happening.

Fig 4: How to handle a HIPAA complaint. Source: First Healthcare Compliance

EXTENDED MEDICAL LEAVE

The Family and Medical Leave Act protects employees who may have to take an extended leave from work due to family or medical reasons. This means your employer has to place you on unpaid leave for the duration of your break. Unfortunately, not every employee or employer has to adhere to the Act. But many employers still provide other benefits to employees that take that time off.

If you have a condition that will require you to take an extended break, first make sure you and your employer are under the FMLA. You should provide enough notice before this time, but if you can’t, then you can notify them as soon as possible. The FMLA ensures that you retain your position or a similar position during your sick leave.

DISABILITY ACCOMMODATIONS

Some injuries or conditions may interfere with your ability to do your job as before.

So, your employers may have to make some changes to your workspace, environment, and workload to accommodate you.

Some employers may find it cheaper and more convenient to relieve you of your position rather than accommodate you, but you can find protection in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

With the ADA, you will not be at the risk of losing your job due to a disability that doesn’t hinder your performance.

The ADA prevents your employer from discriminating against you due to a disability as long as you are still able to perform the job satisfactorily with or without any accommodation by your employer.

For example, you have to still be able to perform your duties, but your employer may have to make your workspace accessible for you.

You don’t have to disclose the full details of your disability on your doctor’s note. The only information needed is how you can be accommodated to work around the disability. If, for example, you need the place to be wheelchair-accessible, you can request that in your doctor’s note, but you don’t have to disclose why you need a wheelchair.

HOW TO WRITE AN ABSENCE LETTER

Some employers don’t require you to send in a doctor’s note every time you need to take time off. If your situation is not so bad, or you don’t need more than a few days off, you may only need to write a letter of absence.

The absence letter states why you need a break and how many days off you need. Some companies require you to send it in before you take time off, but you might be allowed to bring it in after you resume depending on your company policy.

Fig 5: Tips for writing a business letter. Source: Visually

Here Are Some Tips To Take Note Of When Writing A Letter Of Absence

  • Follow company policy: Before you take time off, take note of your company’s policies concerning leave and ensure that you follow every procedure. Give enough notice and turn in your letter within the allotted timeframe. This way, you will avoid any loopholes that may be used against you in the future.
  • Use the business letter format: An absence letter is a formal letter, so you have to use the authorized business letter format. Keep the note professional and brief and as impersonal as possible. State your reasons and the days you will take off and leave it at that. There isn’t any need to go into detail about your condition, so keep then to yourself.
  • Have a good reason: It is not enough that your excuse for taking time off seems okay to you. You have to make sure it falls within what constitutes a good excuse for leaving work in your workplace.
  • Send the letter on time: Find out how much notice you need to give before taking time off and make sure you send the letter within that timeframe. If it is an emergency, you can call in or email as soon as possible and then submit your letter immediately after you resume.
  • Make yourself available: Find out if you can be of help during your time off and pass that message across clearly. For example, if your condition permits you to answer calls or reply emails about work for a few hours, you can let them know. Some people may be able to work for a few hours from home, so you need to let them know.

CONCLUSION

Once in a while, you will need some time off for one reason or the other, so you must know exactly what to do in that situation. A doctor’s note doesn’t have to be for physical illnesses only. You may need some time off to recover from stress or exhaustion, so find out if your doctor can prescribe some time away from the office for you.

Still, when you have time off from work, that probably isn’t the best time to post pictures or social media posts showing you doing something different. You don’t want your employer seeing pictures of you partying when you claim to be sick, so better stay low or save your sick days for serious cases.

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