Is it illegal for your employer to call your doctor?
Your employer or HR can call your doctor to verify a note, but it is against the law for them to request your medical records.
If your boss wishes to discuss any health-related issues with your doctor that involve private and confidential information, they can only do so with your explicit permission.
With that said, let's take a look at other instances where they can contact your doctor with or without your consent.
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Do employers check doctors’ notes?
An employer may check a doctor’s note if they suspect it’s fake, especially if you have paid sick leave. In other words, your boss would want to be extra careful about paying you while you're off work due to short-term medical reasons and validate that your doctor’s note is genuine.
In a sense, it’s all about trust. It’s unlikely for an employer to contact your family doctor and enquire about the validity of your sick note if you’ve been deemed for years a trustworthy and loyal member of staff.
On that note, in the USA, for instance, the federal government requires that employees have access to paid sick leave in only about a third of all states.
Workers, however, have a legal right to benefit from unpaid leave due to serious illness, subject to conditions.
When can my employer ask for a doctor's note?
Your employer can call your doctor to verify the note supporting your paid or unpaid sick leave if they find something suspicious about its authenticity.
Still, your medical information and health records are protected by HIPAA and FMLA laws, which means that your boss cannot ask to access your confidential medical records.
Furthermore, your doctor’s note does not have to specify your illness or specific condition that has prompted you to take sick leave from work.
It’s worth pointing out here that many companies may have a policy not to require a doctor’s note from their workers in order to prove that they’re taking some time off work due to a short-term illness.
On that matter, your boss may ask you to provide a doctor’s note if you’ll be on sick leave for a longer period of time.
Last but not least, under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave ACT (FMLA), employees may have the right to take intermittent leave due to their chronic medical conditions.
In that case, the employer can only request to see a doctor’s note when the worker first takes a leave under the FMLA.
So, the employee doesn’t have to show their medical certification every time they need to be absent from work because of their long-term health issues.
Can an employer ask for a doctor's note for one day?
In general, an employer cannot ask for a doctor’s note for just one day.
Usually, you have to be off work for three consecutive days to be required to provide evidence to your boss that you’ve been sick.
It’s worth mentioning that in the USA, the legislation varies by state when it comes to the employees’ obligation to present a doctor’s note to their employer as proof of their absence from work.
And where there is no specific law in place, business owners can implement their own sick leave policies.
Still, in most cases, calling your boss that you’re not feeling well on that day but will make it to work on the next should be sufficient without providing a doctor’s note.
Can an employer contact your doctor without permission?
Your employer can contact your doctor without permission on several grounds:
- If they feel the need to confirm that your level of fitness does not jeopardize your ability to work and does not pose any risks to you and your coworkers;
- To verify the validity of your doctor’s note;
- If the employer needs to comply with any workers’ compensation-related laws;
- To get reimbursed for any medical care they have provided to an injured employee;
- In any other case, that is required by the federal or specific state law.
So, your boss can get in touch with your doctor directly without your authorization but only if they do not breach any work-related legislation at the same time.
Can you get fired by calling off with a doctor’s note?
An employer cannot fire a worker because they got sick. But your boss can terminate your employment if you’ve been taking excessive sick leave, and this has affected their business operations.
While on the subject, many states give an employer the freedom to fire an employee even if they have complied with the company’s sick leave policies.
For example, the worker has provided a doctor’s note, however, their lengthy absence from work has an adverse impact on the company’s day-to-day runnings or on the performance of a particular department or team.
On the other hand, there are some federal laws that protect the rights of employees during periods of illness, as well as state laws, which may vary by state.
Here is what you can do if you were wrongfully fired.
Is it illegal for an employer not to accept a doctor’s note?
It is illegal for your employer to refuse to accept your doctor’s note if you’re taking sick leave under the FMLA.
Your boss cannot fire you or take any disciplinary actions against you if you have a doctor’s note for being absent from work for up to 12 weeks.
However, if you’re working in a state that lacks any specific doctor’s note laws, there are no guarantees that the company’s sick leave policies will protect you sufficiently in times of medical need.
Frequently asked questions about doctors' notes
What questions can an employer legally ask a doctor?
An employer can ask if a doctor's note is genuine but cannot inquire about specific medical conditions due to HIPAA regulations.
Can an employer discriminate based on the information in a doctor's note?
No, employers cannot discriminate based on medical information. Doing so may violate laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
What should an employee do if they believe their medical privacy has been violated?
Employees should first address the issue with their HR department. If unresolved, they can seek legal counsel or file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.