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A Guide for Employers to Understand and Manage Sick Notes

disability management health and safety Jul 13, 2023
A Guide for Employers to Understand and Manage Sick Notes


Sick notes are an important part of the workplace, as they provide a legal framework to protect employees from discrimination and ensure that employers are taking appropriate action when it comes to accommodating ill or injured workers. This blog will discuss a recent Canadian legal decision related to sick notes, the purpose of sick notes on employers, and best practices for employers when it comes to requesting sick notes, particularly for employees with long-term illnesses or chronic conditions.


Understanding Canadian Legal Decisions on Sick Notes

Sick leave policies can vary among employers, but in many cases, employees are required to provide a doctor's note or medical certificate to be eligible for sick leave. However, recent legal developments have aimed to regulate the use of sick notes in certain provinces of Canada.

For instance, in Nova Scotia, Bill 256, the Patient Access to Care Act, aims to restrict employers from requiring sick notes unless the employee is absent for more than five consecutive working days or has had at least two non-consecutive absences of five or fewer working days due to sickness or injury in the preceding 12 months. This restriction applies even if the employer has concerns about the legitimacy of the absence. Under Bill 256, an employee could potentially miss a week of work without providing supporting documentation to their employer. An employer must wait to request a sick note until an employee meets the absenteeism thresholds.

The bill acknowledges the strain on healthcare resources and aims to strike a balance between employees' rights and employers' requirements. It is important to note that while this bill is specific to Nova Scotia, it could serve as a precedent for similar legislation in other provinces as they navigate the nationwide healthcare crisis.


Managing Sick Notes in the Workplace

Keeping track of employee absences can be a difficult task for employers. Fortunately, a sick note template, fit note, exemption certificate, or employee absence letter can help streamline the process. These documents provide the necessary information for employers to properly document an employee's absence and identify any underlying medical issues. With these documents in hand, employers can easily ensure that their employees are provided with the necessary care and compensation for missed days.

While sick notes are crucial for protecting employees, they also serve a valuable purpose to employers. Requiring sick notes enables employers to validate absences, discourages non-genuine absenteeism, and promotes a culture of transparency and accountability within the workplace. By having a standardized process for sick leave documentation, employers can ensure consistency and fairness in how absences are handled.

Moreover, sick notes can provide valuable information to employers regarding the duration and severity of an illness or injury. This information is essential for making informed decisions regarding work accommodations, modifications to the work environment, and planning for an employee's return to work.


Best Practices for Employers to Handle Long-Term Illnesses or Chronic Conditions

It is important to ensure that all employees are treated fairly, regardless of their health status. With the prevalence of chronic conditions on the rise, organizations need to develop long-term illness management policies to ensure the health of all employees and protect employee rights while they are away from work. Employers can implement some of the following best practices to ensure that their organization abides by legal requirements and effectively helps employees manage their chronic conditions.


Establish Clear Policies: Employers should have a comprehensive policy outlining the requirements for sick notes, the duration of absences that necessitate a sick note, and the procedure for requesting one. Consistency in policy application is crucial to avoid discrimination or favoritism. The policy should also cover preventative care, accommodations, and return to work policies. Considerations should include the types of work adjustments that are considered “reasonable accommodation” for the organization, the length of requirement for accommodations or time away from work, how private employee health information will be handled and stored, and how to manage requests for any specific contraindications that might cause safety risks to the employee, the coworkers, or the public.

Consider Functional Abilities: When reviewing sick notes, employers should focus on functional abilities, including physical, sensory, cognitive, and behavioural abilities, rather than specific medical diagnoses. This approach ensures a fair assessment of an employee's capacity to perform job duties, helps identify suitable accommodations, and maintains employee confidentiality. Employers should work closely with healthcare professionals such as Occupational Therapists to understand the functional limitations and requirements of employees with illnesses or injuries.

Stay in Communication: Employers should maintain open lines of communication with employees who are sick to check on well-being, monitor the effectiveness of accommodations, and discuss return-to-work plans. Regular check-ins can provide opportunities for employees to share any changes in their condition or accommodation needs and can also contribute to a smoother transition back to work.

Educate Managers and Employees: Employers should provide training to managers and supervisors to enhance their understanding of long-term illnesses and chronic conditions, including their potential impact on work performance and productivity. Education should include how to approach conversations about return to work and stay at work needs. This education ensures that employees' rights are respected and that the process remains unbiased and supportive. Similarly, employees should be educated on available resources, support mechanisms, and the process for requesting accommodations.


How Can Gowan Consulting Help?

Gowan Consulting offers a range of services to support employers in handling long-term illnesses or chronic conditions in the workplace. From policy development to assessments, job coaching, and leadership training, we provide the expertise and resources necessary to ensure a fair, compliant, and supportive approach to managing employees with ongoing health conditions.

  1. Contact us to conduct an audit of your accommodation and return to work program and policies. We will work closely with you to understand your organization’s unique needs, provide recommendations, and develop tailored policies that align with best practices.
  2. Make a referral for an accommodation assessment conducted by an expert Occupational Therapist. Our assessment reports clarify an employee’s functional abilities, identify specific job demands, and guide accommodation planning and decision-making.
  3. Make a referral for Occupational Therapy job coaching to equip employees with the necessary tools and skills to sustain their stay at work and effectively manage their long-term health conditions.
  4. Our inclusive leadership training sessions educate leaders on how to approach conversations with employees about accommodations, return to work, and stay at work needs. By fostering inclusive leadership practices, organizations can create a supportive and understanding environment that promotes the well-being and productivity of employees with long-term illnesses or chronic conditions. Book a consultation to learn more about our customized training opportunities for your organization.