How to Get a Doctor’s Note for Work or School

When you’re not feeling well, the last thing you want to worry about is figuring out how you’re going to get a doctor’s note for your school or employer. Obtaining a doctor’s note is important because it can keep you from penalties such as lost wages or unexcused absences. Here’s a guide to help you find out if you need a note and how to get one.

In This Article

Are You Required to Present a Doctor’s Note?

Your school or employer may require a doctor’s note for missing a day or more.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) says employees are entitled to sick leave when they have any type of medical, dental, or optical examination or treatment.

By law, employers are allowed to require a doctor’s note, though not all of them do. Consult your workplace policy guide or ask your boss or human resources manager for specifics. Most policy guides can be found online or on your company’s intranet.

For schools, policies may vary by teacher, but overall sick leave rules should be available at the attendance office or college registrar’s office.

Keep in mind, sick leave policies can be illness specific. For example, your school or employer might not want a note for a minor cold, but it may require one for the flu, which could put you out of commission for a week or more. If that’s the case, your school or employer may also require a doctor’s OK for you to return, as well. To review a sample of a typical company’s sick leave policy (or if you work there by crazy chance), here’s the Sam’s Club sick day policy.

If your company’s policies are unclear, be sure to consult the Office of Personnel Management fact sheet on sick leave. The OPM’s general guidelines defer to employers but include broad definitions for when it may be necessary to provide supporting evidence for use of sick leave. The OPM also outlines data on sick leave accrual and accumulation.

The OPM website also covers more serious circumstances and applicable laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), advanced sick leave, and alternative work schedules.

How to Get a Doctor’s Note

Once you know you need to obtain a doctor’s note, it’s time to call your physician. If your primary-care doctor isn’t available, consider going to an urgent care facility. You will need to visit a health care facility, as nearly every provider will require an office visit before authorizing medical care or recommending sick leave.

Beware that hospital emergency room visits are often costly, and long wait times are to be expected.

At the end of your appointment, simply ask the physician for a note. Doctor’s notes do not need to describe the reason for your visit, as your health records are protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The note only needs to include the date of your visit and that sick leave has been recommended. The doctor’s office may even be willing to send the document directly to your school or employer, especially if it can do so via email.

If handling yourself, your school or employer may require that you submit a note on your first day back from sick leave, or, if the leave was a result of a planned treatment session, a note may be required before granting leave.

Remember, a school official or employer may call the doctor’s office to verify your excuse. However, there are restrictions on what information doctors can divulge, in accordance with HIPAA.

The Office of Personnel Management says a note can be provided by the following health care providers:

  • Chiropractors (but they must take an X-ray)
  • Christian Science practitioners
  • Clinical psychologists
  • Clinical social workers
  • Dentists
  • Medical doctors
  • Nurse midwives
  • Nurse practitioners
  • Optometrists
  • Physician assistants
  • Podiatrists

What If You Don’t Have Insurance?

If you are sick and don’t have insurance (or have a high deductible), but you still need that doctor’s note, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

1. You can obtain a doctor’s note from an urgent care facility or clinic.

To find the cheapest option, call ahead and ask the office about typical fees for a visit relating to your condition.

2. Consider the cost of a doctor’s visit versus the possibility of lost wages.

Think about it this way: If you miss three days of work due to an illness, consider how much money you will lose for three days of lost wages versus the cost of seeing a doctor.

3. If you have a high deductible, look for in-network providers.

In-network providers are covered at a greater percentage than out-of-network physicians and specialists. Use your insurer’s website to search for doctors within your plan.

In Summary

If your work or school requires a doctor’s note, you will need to make an office or clinic visit. Your company’s workplace policy guide will provide specifics on when and if you need an excuse for sick leave. Similarly, school attendance or college registrar offices will have information on sick leave policies. If you do need a note, simply ask your medical provider for an excuse at the end of your visit. To keep costs down, call around to local clinics and check for in-network providers.

Does your employer allow you to text in sick to work? See our article for examples of what to text.

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    • Laura Bachmann says:
      First Quarter Finance logostaff

      Hi Jay,

      A doctor will give you one if you’re healthy and ready to go back to work. Check what your workplace’s guidelines are on doctors note to find out exactly what the note needs to say before you visit a doctor.

  • My doctor didn’t give me a doctors note but sent prescriptions to the pharmacy I work at. Would I still need a doctors note for missing that one day?

    • Laura Bachmann says:
      First Quarter Finance logostaff

      Hi Lola,

      Employers are allowed but not required to get doctor’s notes from their employees. You’ll have to check your employer’s sick leave policy to see if they require a note.

  • Leigh Boone says:

    If I had a scheduled “PTO” day off, can my employer still ask for a doctor’s note? Please advise asap! I live in the state Florida, just FYI.

    • Laura Bachmann says:
      First Quarter Finance logostaff

      Hi Leigh,

      This depends on your company’s policy about paid time off. You’ll have to consult that policy for an answer, as these policies vary from one employer to the next.

  • I call the emergency to get a doctor’s note but I couldn’t get it because I need to see a doctor kus I need a release note I was on light duty but I didn’t work for the 2 week’s​ I was out for 2 week’s and tonight is up my 2 week’s already.. Stressful

    • Rebecca Turley says:
      First Quarter Finance logostaff

      Hi Andres,

      You will need to be seen by a doctor to get a doctor’s excuse. Many people choose to visit an urgent care center when they need a doctor’s excuse. However, you may have difficulty with your employer because the note would be dated today and not two weeks ago when your light duty started.

    • Rebecca Turley says:
      First Quarter Finance logostaff

      Hi Kevin,

      I wish I could give you a definitive answer on this one, but it really is up to the attending physician to make that call.

    • Rebecca Turley says:
      First Quarter Finance logostaff

      Hi Miya,

      Although the answer to this will depend on your employer, most of the time, a doctor’s note with a signature is in order. Good luck!