Doctor Excuses for Missing Work

Male doctor examining female patient
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When you have an injury or illness that is going to require 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 entirely on your company and your particular situation.

When to Get a Note From the 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.

Therefore, check with your human resources office, or your employee handbook, to see what your company’s policy is regarding doctor’s notes.

You Have Rights

If you have any doubt about whether your company will require a note, always have the physician write you a note while you are in the doctor’s office. It's worth noting that your doctor cannot disclose the diagnosis of your illness 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 excuse can also offer you some protection in the event that the company decides to use your absence as a reason for withholding a promotion or even firing you. Sick and injured workers have certain protections 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 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

In your note, your doctor does not need to disclose the specific nature of your illness, under the protections offered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). However, your doctor 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 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Write Your Own Absence Letter

Some offices do not require a doctor’s note for missing a day or two of work, but they do require you to send an absence excuse letter or email. Check with your human resources department 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.