Building Trust into Your Sick Leave Policy


If you look at policy manuals around the country, you will find sick leave policies that say if an employee is going to be away from work due to illness for more than 3 days, they are required to bring a doctor’s note to work to explain the absence. Often this costs the employee money to obtain and it takes time away from the rest they are supposed to be getting as they haul themselves to the Doctor or a walk-in clinic to get the required note.

The need for a sign-off from a Doctor, before they can consider an employee sick enough not to come to work, is a time-honoured tradition that organizations are holding onto. However, it begs asking, “How’s that working for you?

In today’s progressive workplace, it is time for the Doctor’s note to go the way of the dodo bird. Instead, organizations need to build a culture of trust and accountability and if someone is sick, then they are sick and they stay home.

“Trust your employees to do the right thing and to come back to work when they are feeling better.”

In fact, we would go so far as to say that employers should tell their employees to stay home when they are sick so that they don’t bring their germs into the workplace and spread them around — potentially making everyone sick!

This idea may have some employers shaking their heads and thinking that they are going to be taken advantage of by their employees. They may fear that people will be calling in sick frequently because they don’t have to prove their absence. Our response to that may not be popular!

If people are rushing to call in sick because they don’t have to provide a note from a medical professional, then you have bigger issues than an out-dated policy. In workplaces that have a foundation of trust, accountability and integrity, people don’t behave according to policy, they behave according to the alignment they have with the values of the organization.

So, what should you do if you have a “Doctor’s note” policy in your organization? Here are some ideas on how to manage without it:

  • Implement Personal Leave days and get rid of the whole concept of “sick days.” Trust people to use their time off as they need it and for whatever reason they need. Coming to work unable to perform is unproductive. Giving people the flexibility to take time off as they need will go a long way toward building a culture of accountability.
  • Remove the Doctor’s note requirement as a “must provide” and instead soften the language so that you have it as an option to request a Doctor’s note, if required. You could use phrasing such as: “Employees may be required to bring in a note from a Doctor explaining the absence.” This gives you the option to require it if there is an ongoing issue, but not require it for illnesses such as the common cold or flu.
  • Extend the absence requirement – if your policy is currently at play after a 3-day absence, consider extending that to more than 5 days. The common cold and/or flu can keep a person at home for 3 days easily but it is unlikely they would be home for more than 5. This lightens the requirement but still gives you some security if the absence appears excessive.

Employees appreciate being treated with respect and trust. Changing the Doctor’s note requirement in your sick leave policy sends a strong message that you trust your employees and have faith in their behaviour. This will go a long way to building the kind of workplace culture that makes for a great place to work!

Your Engaged Assignment: Review your sick leave policy and talk to your staff about it. Does it need changing? Is there anything different you could do that would bring a stronger sense of trust into your workplace?

Would love to hear what you think about this! Please leave a comment below about your next step!