Employer could require a doctor’s note after sick leave

A city didn’t violate its employees’ right to medical confidentiality by making them provide a doctor’s note when coming back from sick leave, a federal appeals court ruled recently.

The city of Columbus, Ohio had adopted a policy demanding that police department employees who took sick leave give supervisors a physician’s note stating the “nature of the illness” and whether the worker could return to regular duty.

Several employees sued, arguing that the policy violated patient confidentiality rules under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But the court said a request for a general diagnosis or a statement about the “nature” of an illness was okay, and didn’t create the same sort of confidentiality concerns as asking about specific prescription medications, past illnesses, or other disabilities.

This is a very tricky area. Employers should generally speak with an employment law attorney before adopting such a policy, and employees should also talk with an attorney if they feel they’re being compelled to disclose medical data that could be embarrassing or hurtful.