When You Need a Doctor's Note for Missing Work

Male doctor examining female patient
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Do you need a doctor's note for missing work? When you have an injury or illness that requires you to miss work, there are times when you will need to provide an excuse from your doctor. Your company might require that your doctor’s note be kept on file.

Whether or not you need a note from a doctor depends on your company and your particular situation. If you know ahead of time that you're going to miss work, you may need to . Otherwise, you may need to provide a doctor's note to verify that you were legitimately ill and unable to come to work.

When to Get a Note From Your Doctor

Each company has its own policies about whether or not employees must submit a doctor’s note when they take a sick day. Companies also have their own policies about whether you need to submit the note the day of your absence or after you return to work.

Many companies do not require a doctor’s note for missing a day or two of work but might require a note if you are absent for a longer period of time.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) notes that if a company does require employees to provide doctors' notes, the . In addition, there may be state laws and employment contracts or union bargaining agreements governing absence requirements. Do be sure you are meeting the company's requirements.

Check with your human resources office or your employee handbook to see what your company’s policy is regarding doctors' notes and what excuses you need to provide to document absences from work.

What Your Doctor Can Disclose

If you have any doubt about whether your company will require a note, always have the physician write you one while you are at the doctor’s office. It's worth noting that your doctor cannot disclose your diagnosis without your permission. However, he or she can provide proof of the necessity of your visit, recommend a length of absence, and mention any special accommodations you may need in order to return to work.

A doctor's note can also offer you some protection in the event your company decides to use your absence as a reason for withholding a promotion or even firing you. Sick and injured workers have  under U.S. law. Should an employer try to fire you, an injury or illness that has been documented by a healthcare professional can provide you with the documentation necessary to keep your job.

Doctors' Notes and Extended Medical Leave

If you have an illness that is going to require you to miss work for a long period of time (i.e., more than two or three weeks), you will likely need to get a doctor’s note to give to your employer. The note will help ensure that you receive all the benefits offered under the  (FMLA).

Under the protections offered by the  (HIPAA), your doctor does not need to disclose the specific nature of your illness in your note. However, he or she might have to list the dates you are scheduled to have treatments or other protocols that make it impossible for you to go to work. Be sure you know your company’s policies related to extended leave and familiarize yourself with FMLA, if applicable.

Doctors' Notes and Disability Accommodations

If you have an injury that is going to require special accommodations at your place of employment, you will also likely need a physician to document your needs in a letter to your employer or on a form provided by your employer.

Similar to having an illness, you do not need to disclose your specific injury, but your doctor might need to list the accommodations you will need at work.

Familiarize yourself with the policies and protections offered by your company in its handbook as well as the  (ADA).

When You Can Write Your Own Absence Letter

Some offices do not require a doctor’s note for missing a day or two of work but do require you to send an absence excuse letter or email. Check with your human resources department or manager to see if you need to submit an absence excuse letter. Also, inquire if the letter needs to be composed a particular way and what specific information needs to be included.

These  will help you get started on writing your own note or email message.