When you’re not feeling well, obtaining a doctor’s note for your school or employer is important because it can keep you from penalties such as lost wages or unexcused absences. Below, we’ve created a guide to help you find out if you need a note and how to get one.
How to Get a Doctor’s Note for Work or School
To get a doctor’s note, you can call your physician, explain your symptoms, and make an appointment. If your primary-care doctor isn’t available, consider going to an urgent care facility. Sick notes are also available through telemedicine services like Amwell; you will receive a digital copy that you can email to your employer/school or print. However, note that while some doctors offer telemedicine services and give diagnoses by phone or video chat, many providers require an office visit before authorizing medical care or recommending sick leave.
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 appointment, and that sick leave is 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 you must deliver the note yourself, your school or employer may allow you to submit a note on your first day back from sick leave. If the leave is a result of planned treatment, such as elective surgery, you may need to present the note before your school or employer grants 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 U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) says the following health care providers can authorize sick notes:
- Chiropractors (but they must take an X-ray)
- Christian Science practitioners
- Clinical psychologists
- Clinical social workers
- Medical doctors
- Nurse practitioners
- Physician assistants
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:
- 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. Be aware that hospital emergency room visits are often costly, and long wait times are to be expected; an urgent care facility will likely be a better option for you than an emergency visit.
- 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. With a doctor’s note, you may be eligible for paid time off.
- 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.
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. By law, employers are allowed to require a doctor’s note, though not all of them do. For schools, policies may vary by teacher, but overall sick leave rules should be available at the attendance office or college registrar’s office.
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. 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.
Keep in mind that 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, too.
If your company’s policies are unclear, be sure to consult the OPM 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 the use of sick leave. 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.