When You Need a Doctor's Note for Missing Work

This illustration describes When You Need a Doctor's Note for Work and includes "Verifies the necessity of your visit," "Recommends a length of absence," and "Mentions any special accommodations you may need in order to return to work."

Nusha Ashjaee / The Balance

Do you need a doctor's note for missing work? When you have an injury or illness that requires you to miss work, there are times when you will need to provide an excuse from your doctor. Your company might require that your doctor’s note be kept on file.

Whether or not you need a note from a doctor depends on your company and your particular situation. If you know ahead of time that you're going to miss work, you may need to notify your employer in advance. Otherwise, you may need to provide a doctor's note to verify that you were legitimately ill and unable to come to work.

When to Get a Note From Your Doctor

Each company has its own policies about whether employees must submit a doctor’s note when they take a sick day. Companies also have their own policies about whether you need to submit the note on the day of your absence or after you return to work.

Many companies do not require a doctor’s note for missing a day or two of work but might require a note if you are absent for a longer period of time.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) notes that if a company does require employees to provide doctors' notes, the policy must be applied uniformly to all employees. In addition, there may be state laws and employment contracts or union bargaining agreements governing absence requirements. Make sure you are meeting the company's requirements.


Check with your human resources office or your employee handbook to see what your company’s policy is regarding doctors' notes and what excuses you need to provide to document absences from work.

What Your Doctor Can Disclose

If you have any doubts about whether your company will require a note, always have the physician write you one while you are at the doctor’s office. The note should verify the necessity of your absence from work, recommend a length of absence, and mention any special accommodations you may need in order to return to work.

A doctor's note can also offer you some protection in the event your company decides to use your absence as a reason for withholding a promotion or even firing you. Sick and injured workers have certain protections under U.S. law. Should an employer try to fire you, an injury or illness that has been documented by a healthcare professional can provide you with the documentation necessary to keep your job.

Doctors' Notes and Extended Medical Leave

If you have an illness that is going to require you to miss work for a long period of time (i.e., more than two or three weeks), you will likely need to give a doctor’s note to your employer. The note will help ensure that you receive all the benefits offered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Under the protections offered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), your health information is usually confidential. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says that an employer may request information about an employee’s disability or health condition as long as their inquiries are “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”


Your employer is obligated to follow ADA confidentiality standards to safeguard your information. This might mean, for example, keeping your FMLA and ADA information in a separate file from your personnel file.

Doctors' Notes and Disability Accommodations

If you have an injury that is going to require special accommodations at your place of employment, you will also likely need a physician to document your needs in a letter to your employer or on a form provided by your employer.

Familiarize yourself with the policies and protections offered by your company in its handbook as well as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

When You Can Write Your Own Absence Letter

Some offices do not require a doctor’s note for missing a day or two of work but do require you to send an absence excuse letter or email. Check with your human resources department or manager to see if you need to submit an absence excuse letter. Also, inquire if the letter needs to be composed in a particular way and what specific information needs to be included.

Review sample excuse letters for missing work that will help you get started on writing your own note or email message.

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  1. SHRM. “Is an Employer Entitled to Ask for a Doctor’s Note When an Employee Has a Health-Related Absence?” Accessed March 10, 2021.

  2. National Conference of State Legislatures. “Paid Sick Leave.” Accessed March 10, 2021.

  3. U.S. Department of Labor. “Family and Medical Leave Act.” Accessed March 10, 2021.

  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Your Rights Under HIPAA.” Accessed March 10, 2021.

  5. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “The Family and Medical Leave Act, the ADA, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Accessed March 10, 2021.

  6. U.S. Department of Labor. “Americans With Disabilities Act.” Accessed March 10, 2021.

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