Doctors’ Notes: What’s Appropriate?

By Sonal Shah, JD, Senior Employment Law Counsel
Published July 12, 2016

With so many employment-related laws, employers often are unsure what they can ask and require when an employee says he/she is not coming to work. An employer always has the right to ask the employee why he/she is taking time off. In cases of illness or injury, employers also have the right to require employees to provide doctors’ notes. This should be done consistent with your policy. In our experience, employers generally request a doctor’s note for absences longer than three days or when suspicious circumstances arise, such as when an employee calls in sick on the same day for which a request for vacation was denied.

While it may be appropriate to request a doctor’s note, the information requested should typically be limited only to verify the dates of illness or injury. There should be no request for medical information or diagnosis, unless such an inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity. This is because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) considers such requests to be an unlawful medical inquiry under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). See EEOC v. Dillard's, Inc., et al, Case No. 08-CV-1780 (alleging Dillard’s violated the ADA by requiring employees to disclose the exact nature of their medical condition before Dillard’s would approve the leave as sick leave). 

However, if the absence is long enough and/or serious enough to qualify as leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or if the employee is potentially requesting a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, the employer may require an employee to provide more detailed medical information, including the nature of the illness or injury. See the DOL’s sample FMLA forms and the ADA Sample Inquiry Form  on our website for details regarding what medical information is appropriate to request. Otherwise, the employer typically has no legitimate need to know about an employee’s medical issues/condition and thus a general doctor’s note should suffice.

To learn more about the ADA, including what types of leave policies are recommended, what’s allowable in terms of requiring doctors’ notes, and how to deal with requests for extend leave, sign up for our July 26th training, entitled “The New EEOC Guidance on Leave Time.”

Association members with questions are encouraged to contact us through the HR Hotline at (800) 448-4584 or



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