I saw a CBC article yesterday entitled Bosses should stop asking workers for sick notes, OMA head says. It is a short article, but speaks volumes about something, quite frankly, I hadn’t really thought much about.
Employers often require a doctors' note substantiatiating an employee absence from work on medical grounds. This is a complicated subject, in some cases, as employers don’t want to be “big brother” particularly where the employee has a good attendance record. However, that is not always the case and, at a point, the employer might be suspicious or otherwise concerned, and require that the employee provide a medical note confirming that the absence was, indeed due, to medical reasons.
This is a topic deserving of much more than a short blog post and the complexities are wide and deep and potentially costly. Each situation, including whether the employee is unionized or not, must, of course, be assessed on its own merits and, as in so many cases, there is no “one size fits all” solution. When in doubt get legal advice (and that’s not a public service announcement for the legal profession - in it simply good business).
The Ontario Medical Association (“OMA”) has posted a release on its website (Please Stay Home if You Are Sick: Ontario’s Doctors). The advice is as follows:
Employers should encourage workers to stay home when sick - not require sick notes which has a discouraging effect and forces patients into the doctor’s office when they are sick, which only encourages the spread of germs to those in the waiting room, who in some cases are more vulnerable. People such as children, seniors and those living with chronic diseases are more susceptible to the flu and are at a greater risk from its complications.
Employers, I think, would not take issue with part of this - specifically, that if an employee is sick, they should stay home. I may be wrong with that assumption, but I don't think I am.
However, in an employment setting, depending on the circumstances, employers might legitimately require a medical note substantiating the veracity of the absence including that it was for medical reasons. Further, medical notes might be necessary in order to determine whether the employer can meet its statutory obligations (for example, under the Human Rights Code).
The world is not perfect, and we do we operate in laboratory conditions. Maybe the message is that employers should act on a case by case basis in deciding whether to request a doctor’s note from an absent employee? Applying policies and procedures blindly, without regard to the individual circumstances, generally creates problems. But to go the other way and simply say that employers should “not require sick notes” of its employees is likely too “black and white” a position for the grey world we live in.
Update: The Star has an article TTC says sick-note policy has curbed absenteeism.