We know, we know … It is incredibly difficult to resist the urge, especially if you happen to have an employee who constantly calls in sick … on Mondays … during your busiest times of the year. And with the number of Google searches for doctor’s note templates at nearly 2,000 per month, your instincts may not be all that far off base. However, there is a multitude of reasons that it is bad company policy for employers to require a doctor’s note from their employees when they call in sick.
More people may get sick
The thing about colds, flus, and general illnesses is that people catch them because they are contagious. And by requiring employees to provide a doctor’s note every time they catch a run-of-the-mill bug, you may be inadvertently encouraging them to come in sick and thereby infect the rest of your workforce — something that can have serious negative consequences in terms of team morale, productivity, and your bottom line. Or, on the other hand, you may be encouraging employees to go to the doctor for a routine illness that does not really require medical care (all in the name of getting their doctor’s note), which results in rising health care costs.
To emphasize this point, check out this photo that someone recently posted to a Reddit feed (though we cannot vouch for its authenticity).
Speaking of team morale …
Nothing ticks off adults more than being treated like children. And no matter how well meaning your doctor’s note requirement, it will ultimately make some of your employees feel like they are being policed like little kids. You would never think about forcing your employees to ask for permission before they use the restroom, right? (If you would, we need to set up a conversation with you and one of our HR experts ASAP.)
This sort of falls along the same lines. If you are employing adults (which we assume you are for the most part because of child labor laws …), you need to do your utmost to treat them as such. That means allowing them to make the call about whether or not they are too sick for work
If you ask one, you have got to ask them all
If, even after all of these perfectly good reasons to not require a doctor’s note, keep in mind that if there is a single employee you feel compelled to ask for a doctor’s note, you must then ask all of your employees for a doctor’s note when they call in sick as well. It is imperative that you apply policies uniformly, meaning that if there is really just an employee or two that you are worried about abusing sick time, you still need to burden the entire team with the doctor’s note requirement. Failing to do so would leave the company seriously vulnerable to legal action — not to mention potentially putting other workers who are in charge of enforcing the policy into a reeeaaallly awkward position.
Be careful what you ask for
If you are still determined to have a doctor’s note requirement at your company, be very careful about your requirements for the contents of the doctor’s note. Not only will some employees be uncomfortable disclosing the specifics of their illness, but in the case of employees who have conditions covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, requiring too much documentation could put you at odds with the law and have serious legal implications. A required doctor’s note should only be required to cover information that pertains to the employee’s job, namely confirmation that they miss working for a medical reason and how long they are expected to be missing work.
A reasonable alternative
So, if you are stuck with employees who you believe are chronically abusing sick time, what other recourse does an employer have? A better middle ground here would be to very strictly enforce your no-call/no-show policies — assuming that you have them in place. If you do not, read up on our post about creating a comprehensive employee manual and staff handbooks.
Additionally, keep scrupulous records of employee attendance and take note of who gives notice of lateness or absences. You may be able to find a pattern of absenteeism and pinpoint a particular problem in the way a certain department is managing employees, any seasonal fluctuations or determine if, in fact, there are individuals who are ultimately the problem. Having a record of the absences is helpful if the time comes to let that employee go.
Or for personalized recommendations for how your small business can tackle employee attendance problems, be sure to give us a shout! Our HR experts are resourceful and can help create a plan of action that will help you maximize your team productivity while minimizing the hassle or legal vulnerability on your end.