A boss that doesn't trust you -- who also calls your doctor about your work excuse -- may be a signal it's time to look for another job. On the other hand, if you've been absent a lot lately, then she might have good reason to verify your absence or excuse. Work absenteeism accounts for billions of dollars in lost wages and productivity, and supervisors who spend a lot of time managing it costs the company as well. Most companies only require you to provide a doctor's note for a medical absence when you have missed three or more days of work. But work excuse rules under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are different, as are the rules for workers' comp injuries.
Medical Privacy Laws
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) enacted in 2000 and modified since that time, set the national standards by which medical professionals, health insurance companies, health care clearing houses and other health care providers must protect the privacy of your personal health information. With many medical records being stored electronically, HIPAA also establishes the safeguards for accessing these records. But it's important to note that the law does not apply to requests for information, just the release of it.
Medical Information Request
Your employer does not have to take you at your word. If you missed work because of an illness, and she required a medical excuse from your doctor, she can call your doctor to verify your excuse. She can also ask whatever questions she wants to ask of your doctor, but your doctor must comply with HIPAA in response. In other words, your doctor cannot provide your employer with your private medical information without your permission, usually given in writing. If your doctor releases private information without your permission, your issue is with your doctor, not your employer. Your doctor, can however, verify that she wrote your work excuse and any information provided in it.
Worker's Comp Injuries
If you are injured on the job, state law requires your employer to provide coverage and protection for your medical injury, unless you work for a Texas employer who chose not to pay for workers' comp insurance. In some cases, your injury may allow you to return to work with physical restrictions related to your injury. When your doctor puts you on restricted duty, she should provide this information to the claims examiner and your employer. Your employer can call your doctor to verify your work restrictions or excuse.
Family Medical Leave Act
Eligible full-time employees under FMLA are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave a year due to your serious health condition or those of your immediate family members, such as a child, spouse or parent. Your employer must provide you with an equivalent position, pay, benefits and working conditions upon your return from leave, she cannot fire you or enact disciplinary actions while you are under FMLA leave. Under the law, you need to give your employer sufficient notice, ideally both verbal and written notice, when you can for planned and emergency absences. Your employer can also require you to provide a written medical certification from a health care provider verifying yours or the family member's serious medical condition. And yes, she can call the doctor to verify your work excuse, but the doctor should not release any medical information without your permission.
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.