Doctor's Note for Work: What It Is and When You Need One

Updated July 31, 2023

A medical professional is seen walking at three different times of the day.

If you have an illness or injury that causes you to miss work, you may need a note from a doctor to provide to your employer. A doctor's note for work usually outlines the timeline for recovery and the medical necessity for missing work. Every company has its own rules and criteria for when employees must provide a note from their doctor, and it's important to understand when this may apply to you.

In this article, we discuss what a doctor's note for work should include, when you need one and what kind of personal information your doctor can disclose.

Related: The Do's and Don'ts of Taking a Sick Day

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What is a doctor's note?

A doctor's note is a written notice from a qualified healthcare provider that outlines basic information about a medical condition, such as an illness or injury. The note may excuse the patient from work entirely or indicate what duties they cannot perform due to a medical condition. This legal document may also simply affirm that a patient was seen in the office for a legitimate medical need without disclosing any details about the individual's condition.

Although such a note is commonly referred to as a doctor's note, it may be produced by the staff at a medical office or hospital. It typically includes the date and time you saw a healthcare professional, any recommended or required limitations and whether an absence period from work is required. The limitations and absence requirements are especially important if you need to adjust your duties or miss multiple shifts or days of work.

Related: Tips for Calling in Sick

When should you get a doctor's note for work?

The need to obtain a doctor's note for work depends on your employer's policy. Some employers require a doctor's note for employees who have to miss an hour of their scheduled shift, while others only require a note if an employee misses a week or more of work. Another factor is the location in which you live. State and local labor laws can require employees to provide documentation from their healthcare providers when they are unable to work.

If you become ill or injured or need to schedule a doctor's appointment during your working hours, check with your company's HR department to determine whether they require a doctor's note. It is generally easier and more convenient to get a note during your visit, so finding out in advance helps you get what you need to adhere to the company policy. When you consult with the HR representative, find out what the doctor needs to include in the note as well. You can provide this detail to your healthcare provider to get a sufficient note.

Related: How To Request a Medical-Based Absence

Extended medical leave and disability accommodations

Individuals with injuries that require special accommodations or ongoing periods of absence may need to request extended medical leave. For example, if you have to undergo surgery that will require several weeks of recovery time, you may need to use the benefits offered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Special accommodations may be covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well.

Under the FMLA, people who meet certain illness or injury criteria can take up to 12 workweeks off during a 12-month period. The workweeks can be consecutive, but you do not have to take them all at once. Employers with at least 50 employees must provide this benefit to employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours over the last 12 months and have worked for that employer for at least 12 months. Under the FMLA, the time an employee takes off is unpaid, but they may be able to use short-term or long-term disability benefits.

Examples of qualified FMLA situations include:

  • When caring for an adopted child or a child in foster care

  • When giving birth and caring for a newborn child

  • When unable to work due to a serious medical condition

  • When caring for an immediate family member, such as a parent, child or spouse, with a serious health condition

  • When dealing with emergencies related to the active military duty of a family member

Related: How To Ask for a Leave of Absence in 5 Steps

What kind of information can your doctor disclose?

Under the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), healthcare providers and professionals must protect sensitive health information about patients. They cannot release such information without the patient's approval, or they may be subject to penalties and fines. As a result of HIPAA, healthcare professionals generally do not disclose details about a patient's medical condition. Instead, they may simply verify the medical necessity for missing work, outline any accommodations needed for your condition and recommend a length of absence from work, if applicable.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that employers can request additional information about an employee's health condition or disability from a healthcare provider. This additional detail can be requested only when the inquiry is consistent with business necessity and related to the individual's job and required tasks. If an employer does request additional information, they must follow the confidentiality standards outlined in the ADA to protect sensitive data.

Related: When and How To Tell Your Employer About a Disability

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Example of a doctor's note

Your employer will outline any requirements for a doctor's note. However, most companies require the date and time of the visit, any recommendations for time off work due to the injury or illness and any accommodations that must be made for the individual at work. Review this sample doctor's note to see what an employer might require:

Lakeview Medical Clinic
1408 W. Main St.
New York, NY 01110

April 23, 2021
RE: John Ling

To Whom It May Concern:

Please excuse John Ling from work from April 23, 2021, through April 27, 2021. John has a serious medical condition that requires five days of recovery time. He may return to work on April 27, 2021, on light duty. During the light-duty restrictions, John is unable to lift more than 15 pounds and must have a chair available to allow him to take seated breaks during his shift. The light-duty restrictions will be in effect until May 3, 2021, after which time he can return to normal duties.

Dr. Amanda Robertson

Related: Average Sick Days Per Year

Frequently asked questions

Do employers verify the validity of doctor's notes?

While it can depend on the company and situation, employers may verify the validity of a doctor's note, so it's important to be honest and only submit legitimate documents to your employer.

When can an employer ask for a doctor's note?

An employer can technically request a doctor's note at any time when you request time off because of your health, although they're less likely to do so if you take fewer than three consecutive days off.

Can employers ask for a doctor's note before allowing you to return to work?

If you had a contagious illness or you had a serious injury, an employer may request a doctor's note to ensure you've had time to recover and received approval to handle your job duties.

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