This depends on the circumstances that prompt the request and the employer’s policies governing such requests.
Sick Leave. Maybe. An employer may generally request a doctor’s note as part of its sick leave or attendance policy. However, such a practice must be uniformly applied. The required note should not seek a diagnosis/medical condition; rather, the note should verify that the employee was seen by the health care provider and stipulate any period of incapacity or job-related restrictions. Requesting more information could run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In addition, federal contractors required by contract to provide paid sick leave may require a doctor’s note/certification only for absences of three or more consecutive full days, and the employer must notify the employee of the requirement to provide a doctor’s note/certification before the employee returns to work. Employers must also be familiar with any restrictions under state and local paid-sick-leave laws.
FMLA. Yes. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) permits employers to require employees to obtain a completed certification from the worker’s health care provider to substantiate the need for FMLA leave. A subsequent request for a doctor’s note is generally considered a request for recertification, which is only permitted every 6 months or under certain circumstances. See Can we require a physician’s note every time an employee misses work while taking FMLA intermittent leave? Further, if an employee is returning from FMLA leave, a fitness-for-duty request is permitted as described in FMLA Regulation 825.312.
Workers’ Compensation. Yes. It is generally permissible for employers to require a doctor’s note or release to return to work following a work-related injury or illness.
ADA. Yes. The ADA allows employers to request information from a doctor to find out more about the employee’s impairment and to determine whether it rises to the level of an ADA disability when the disability or need for accommodation is not apparent. This information may also be used to learn more about the severity of functional limitations and accommodation possibilities. Inquiries should be limited to the condition that requires accommodation. The EEOC provides enforcement guidance for disability-related inquiries and medical examination of employees under the ADA.
If an employee is returning from a health-related absence and the employer has a reasonable belief that the employee presents a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals at work, employers should seek legal advice regarding how to proceed. The employer may be able to request a note from the employee’s doctor stating that the employee is not contagious or to identify any workplace modifications that may be needed to protect the health and safety of others. However, such an inquiry could violate the ADA if the employer is unable to demonstrate certain criteria such as job relatedness and that the medical inquiry is consistent with business necessity. Even in situations where the illness is not a disability under the ADA, privacy and discrimination laws restrict an employer’s ability to make medical inquiries that are not job-related.