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Doctor’s note for leave

Our group has less than 50 employees. An employee states they are unable to return to work for an indefinite period. They have provided a doctor’s note that simply states the employee “is being followed at their office for medical care. Please excuse her from work for an indefinite time; to be re-evaluated at our office”. The employee has now missed 7 days of work and exhausted all accrued PTO. I have spoke with the employee 2 x after leaving multiple messages. She alluded to her illness as “depression” but the dr’s note doesn’t give any specifics. Am I allowed to require more detailed information regarding her “illness” and necessary time off? What are we allowed to require as documentation? I want to be fair to the employee but I feel she should provide more specific info regarding necessary time off and expected date to return.

There are two federal laws to consider, the FMLA and ADA. Also, some states have adopted state leave entitlement laws. It’s important to know if any state leave entitlement legislation exists in your state.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job protected leave in a 12 month period for specified family and medical reasons. A private-sector employer with less than 50 employees is not covered by the FMLA.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers employment by private employers with 15 or more employees. The ADA prohibits discrimination against an individual who can perform the essential functions of his job with or without reasonable accommodation. A reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits a qualified employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of a job. Reasonable accommodations can include job restructuring, reassignment, or modified work schedule. In some cases, a leave of absence may constitute a reasonable accommodation. It is a violation of the ADA not to provide reasonable accommodation to a qualified individual with a disability, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business. Undue hardship means that the accommodation would require significant difficulty or expense.

The ADA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Clinical depression may qualify for protection under the ADA.

An employer may request medical documentation certifying the need for reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Disability-related inquiries must be a business necessity and related to the job. However, an employer is entitled only to documentation sufficient to establish that an accommodation is needed. The ADA doesn’t require specific forms to be used to request information.

Employers are not required to provide never-ending leaves of absences but they do have an obligation to participate in discussions with employees once notice of a disability has been received. The discussions must include an interactive exchange of information which specifically addresses reasonable accommodations.

If medical evidence indicates the employee will not be able to return to work in the future and the employee is unable to provide information to counter the evidence, then an extended leave would most likely be considered an undue hardship for the employer. Thus, terminating the employee may be justified.

However, if the employee provides medical information indicating that he can’t currently perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodation but may do so in the future, then it’s recommended to place the employee on leave until such future date unless doing so would case the employer undue hardship.

It’s important for employers to consider all reasonable accommodations prior to terminating an employee who has exhausted or is ineligible leave entitlements. Considerations must be provided on a case by case basis. Clearly documenting all discussions and actions regarding the situation is extremely important in case the employee claims wrongful termination.


This entry was posted on Monday, August 11th, 2014 at 1:24 pm and is filed under
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4 Responses to “Doctor’s note for leave”

  1. Terri Goodner Says:

    Regarding this same employee. I have left voice mail messages twice over the past two and a half weeks without the employee responding although co-workers have stated the employee has initiated contact with them during this same period. The employee informed a co-worker that I had left messages. The employee also notified a coworker of office events that occurred after my last communication with her which leads me to believe her condition does not prevent her from communicating. When I last spoke with her 2.5 weeks ago she stated she had a doctors appointment that day. I asked she send me an updated note from the doctor. She nor the doctor sent an updated note. One co-worker said the employee is now visiting relatives out of state. I plan to send a certified letter to the last known address stating the employee is being terminated due to job abandonment by lack of followup or communication to the employer per several requests. Isn’t it the employee’s responsibility to communicate unless there is proof of their inability to communicate? Obviously if the employee was hospitalized or the doctor’s note stated their condition prevents communication the situation would be different. The last date I spoke with the employee was July 28, 2014. It is now 8/13/2014.

  2. hrlady Says:

    Hi Terri,
    Both the employer and employee have a responsibility to engage in the interactive communication process. It’s apparent from the information provided that the employee is able to communicate with the employer but for whatever reason is choosing not to. The recommended course of action is to send a warning letter via certified mail. Inform the employee of the dates you’ve attempted to contact her and her lack of response. Provide a specified time frame during which she must contact you or it will be assumed that she has abandoned her job. Once the timeframe has expired send a follow up certified letter confirming her termination due to job abandonment. Make sure to document everything regarding the situation.

  3. Terri Goodner Says:

    Thank you. I appreciate your help in this matter.

  4. hrlady Says:

    You’re welcome!

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