The lowdown on doctor's notes and sick days
Don't tell me you've never done it. I mean booked off work for being sick when you really just didn't feel like working.
Maybe you attended that afternoon baseball game or had the Monday "flu." Whatever the reason, you lied to your employer and now you need a doctor's note.
Many companies don't deduct time off for a reasonable number of sick days. Many companies have an illness or disability policy which allows employers to get paid while off sick. You should count yourself lucky because employers don't always have to pay your salary for time you don't work.
But now you've been asked for a doctor's note. What do you do? One alternative is to get a fake note from a fake doctor like Kramer's Dr. Martin Van Nostrand on Seinfeld. I don't recommend this approach, but any Google search of the words "doctor's notes" will give you access to a plethora of sites where fake notes can be ordered, for a small fee, of course. I suppose if you were ethically challenged enough to call in sick when you weren't, it won't be a big stretch to buy a fake note, but don't do it. If you are caught -- and this is a scam that is easy to catch -- you could lose your job.
There are really only two alternatives: fess up and hope your employer gives you a second chance or trundle off to your doctor and ask for a note. Of course, not worrying about ethics, you have to sort of lie to your doctor and make up a story about how sick you were.
Your doctor may charge a fee, that is, if your doctor agrees to give you a note. Many doctors will provide a note even if they doubt your story. Most will give you the benefit of the doubt, but if you abuse this, sooner or later your doctor will balk.
Employers don't mind it terribly when an employee has the Monday or Friday flu as long as it is infrequent and not widespread. It's a cost of doing business. Your co-workers have to roll up their sleeves and work harder, but most understand, again, as long as it doesn't happen too often.
What employers really hate, however, are the frequent absences. That's when Human Resources gets involved and you need a doctor's note.
The problem for many companies is that the notes they receive are often devoid of meaningful information. A note that merely says that you were "unable to work" on the specified date is useless. Next to useless is the note that says you were "unable to work due to illness." Even worse are notes that state that you were "unable to work due to stress."
I've seen many notes that go further; they say the employee is unable to work due to stress and will be able to return in a specified period. That one always evokes cynicism. How can anybody accurately predict the precise date when the employee will be better or when the "stress" will abate?
At this point Human Resources might get the company lawyer involved. You might be told you need a better note. You might be told to see the company doctor. Maybe the salary for your absent days will be withheld pending
proper proof of illness. Sometimes these cases end up in a lawsuit or a human rights complaint.
To avoid all of this gamesmanship I suggest that all three parties enter into a silent contract.
Employees: Don't steal from your employer. If you need time off, take it as a vacation day or a day without pay.
Employers: Trust your employees and don't insist on a doctor's note for every minor absence. The notes are a hassle to get and they cost money.
Doctors: Don't assist your patients in these "ethical" lapses. Your notes are your word and your credibility is at stake.
Alan Shanoff was counsel to Sun Media for 16 years and is currently a freelance writer and teaches media law.