Your employer might let you return to work without your doctor’s consent, but going back to work too soon after an illness or injury can be unwise -- even dangerous. To protect themselves and their employees, many employers do choose to require a doctor’s consent before letting you back on the job, but it might not necessarily be your doctor they consult.
If your employer has more than 50 employees working at least 20 weeks per year, and you’ve worked for that employer for at least a year, then you have rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The act lets you take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within any 12-month period without the risk of losing your job. During this time, though, your employer is allowed to request a “fitness for duty” certification from your doctor before letting you return to work after a serious condition, injury or illness. Your employer may also be allowed to request a periodic update on your status and intent to return to work throughout your leave.
No Rest for the Weary
Some employers not only won’t request a doctor signing off on your healthy return, but might also expect you to work through your injury or illness. There’s no federal law to force employers to send you home when you’re sick or give you sick pay if you do go home. Without sick pay, it can be tempting to bring the flu to work or struggle through the back pain as you handle your duties. As of 2012, 25 percent of full-time, private-sector workers and 73 percent of part-time, private-sector workers don’t receive a single day of paid sick leave from their employers, and women are less likely to be offered paid sick leave than men, according to the Center for American Progress. This can make taking personal time off of work both a financial and health burden.
On the Boss’s Dime
Your employer might require you to get multiple medical certifications before letting you return to work, especially if you are receiving worker’s compensation benefits from a work-related injury or illness. You’d have at least 15 calendar days to get your own doctor’s medical certification to your employer, according to the Family and Medical Leave Act. The act, then, allows your employer to choose a different health care provider and pay for a second medical certification as a way of getting a second opinion on your condition. If the two opinions differ, your employer can pay for a third certification from a third health care provider chosen by both you and your employer. This third opinion becomes the official word.
Little to See Here
As an employer, you can find out what restrictions are on your returning employee in order to make necessary accommodations by asking the employee or by requesting information from the employee’s doctor. Federal law, however, prevents you from getting access to most details from an employee’s patient records. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act dictates that a doctor can only share the minimum amount of medical information necessary enough to let an employer know that a patient can return to work, and the patient must give consent before the doctor can share that information, too.
- U.S. Department of Labor: Employment Law Guide: Health Benefits, Retirement Standards, and Worker’s Compensation: Family and Medical Leave Act
- Center for American Progress: Fact Sheet: Paid Sick Days
- Stanford University: HIPAA Physician Guide
- U.S. Department of Labor: Wage and Hour Division: The Family and Medical Leave Act
A writer since 1995, Christian Fisher is an author specializing in personal empowerment and professional success. From 2000 to 2005, he wrote true stories of human triumph for "Woman's World" magazine. Since 2004, he has also helped launch businesses including a music licensing company and a music school.