Currently, many employers have a policy in place to mandate a doctor’s note from their employees to confirm that they are off work due to sickness or medical reasons. This is a fairly common practice, though it has been a hot topic recently with the Ontario government revealing plans to prohibit employers from requesting doctor’s notes from employees. You may have seen stories in the media of doctors expressing their frustration with employers that require these notes; some of these doctors have even gone as far as charging the employer a fee for providing the note.
The impetus behind the upcoming changes is to free up much-needed medical resources for other more legitimate reasons and to decrease the spread of illness at medical clinics. Under Ontario’s new policy, employers will still be able to request a doctor’s note from employees who take more than ten sick days in a year (though some argue that ten sick days is too lenient and seven would be more realistic).
Unplanned employee absences can have a tremendous impact on the organization and other employees, so it makes sense that employers want to keep employees at work! There’s a balance to strike – employers want to make sure that sick days aren’t taken advantage of; on the other hand, employers need to ensure that employees don’t feel pressured into coming to work when they are legitimately sick.
Ultimately, creating an open organizational culture and implementing a fair, transparent sick day policy is the best way to keep employees engaged and ensure sick days are used appropriately. Per British Columbia’s Employment Standards, employers don’t have to legally provide paid sick days. However, most employers offer paid sick days as a benefit to their employees, in order to stay competitive in the job market, prevent the spread of illnesses among coworkers, and encourage overall employee well-being.
One of the most important things an employer can do to minimize sick days is to promote a healthy work environment. Here are some tips on supporting a healthy workplace:
1. Trust your employees. A doctor’s note policy is written based on a desire to prevent abuse. Update your policy to say that the Employer “may” request a doctor’s note and let employees who have the flu stay in bed and get better. You then have the freedom to address issues on a case-by-case basis – if a manager is worried about the employee who is consistently taking extended sick time, let them know when they call in sick that they will be expected to provide a note.
2. Encourage sick employees to stay home. Being short-staffed can be tough, so get flexible with work arrangements. Employees may be better off working from home for a day or two if they are feeling under the weather. They can still work but aren’t bringing their illness into the office. If they are unable to work, then they should definitely stay home and keep their germs to themselves! This is the best preventative measure in ensuring a healthy workplace.
3. Promote health & wellness. Provide your employees with a health and wellness subsidy as part of your employee wellness plan. This could be a certain amount per year that they can used towards activities that support health and wellness.
4. Provide an annual flu shot. Arrange for an annual flu shot to be administered onsite to any employees who want to receive the vaccine.
5. Foster hand cleanliness and proper coughing technique. Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers throughout the office for employees and visitors to use along with soap and water. Be sure to wash hand towels frequently and disinfect surfaces and electronics regularly. Ensure that coughs and sneezes are covered with a tissue and always cough or sneeze into your elbow/upper arm.
Your Engaged HR Assignment:
What is your current policy regarding employee’s sick time from work? Do you require a doctor’s note after a certain amount of days? It might be time to let that process go and trust your employees’ good judgement.
Want to revamp your sick-leave policy or need assistance with your entire employee handbook? Let us know and we are happy to help!