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Can Your Employer Require Proof for Sick Days?

Most people have a good idea of when they may be too sick to go to work. But can an employer ask for proof?

Whether your employer offers you paid sick leave (which will soon be required by law in some states) or your sick leave is unpaid, an employer will typically take an employee's word for it that he or she is sick.

In some cases, however, a supervisor may request a doctor's note or other form of documentation to justify a sick day. Is that allowed? Here's what you need to know:

Paid Time Off v. Sick Leave

To avoid having to distinguish between sick days and vacation days, many companies have moved to a system where employers are provided paid time off (PTO). PTO can generally be used for any purpose, from taking time off to taking a vacation, and thus an employee will not be required to show proof of an illness when taking PTO.

For employees who do not have paid time off, employers may generally request some form of proof from an employee that he or she has been absent from work because of illness. Generally, an employer's policy regarding sick leave, including requirements that an employee be able to provide proof of an illness, will be included in the employee handbook or otherwise provided to employees.

Laws That May Affect Sick Leave Policies

Although there are relatively few specific legal guidelines for employers requiring proof for sick days, employment discrimination laws generally require that an employer must apply policies regarding sick leave uniformly to all employees to avoid discriminating against employees who may have a disability. In certain circumstances, an employer may also have to make reasonable accommodations for an employee who is disabled, which may include modifying an employee's work schedule.

If an employee is out sick for an extended period of time, he or she may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The FMLA is a federal law that allows employees to take extended leave for a number of reasons, including serious health conditions.

Under the FMLA, an employer generally must allow the employee to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and return to his or her job or its equivalent. However, an employer can require that an employee provide medical certification of an illness or health condition.

Learn more about employees' rights to sick leave, vacation, and time off at FindLaw's section on Leave Laws.

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