a brown stuffed bear with bandages
a brown stuffed bear with bandages

Many disability management programs or processes require that employees provide sick notes from their physician to validate their work absence. These notes vary in content, but many include an estimate for the time away from work, and a signature from the physician to verify that the employee can’t be at work. If this sounds like the process you use, please read on!

My advice is to throw those notes away, or better yet, stop asking for them!  Health related absence from work is far too important and complicated to be reduced to a chicken scratch note from a doctor, on a sheet no bigger than a note pad. When you allow for a one way conversation you aren’t a part of, you are handing over the opportunity to support your employee with a discussion of their needs and a chance to offer a solution that keeps them working.

Working with your employees, to help them stay at work through a health event leads to better health outcomes. The process of learning how to ask appropriate questions of your employees, and making the appropriate changes can lead to long lasting, sustainable adjustments for both the employee and the employer.  Here is a real example (identifying information has been altered to protect the identity):

An employee gives their supervisor a note that he will be off for 6-8 weeks, for health reasons and under doctor care.  That was the extent of information received by the employer.  The employee was off work for 3 months as he was adjusting to new medication that made it difficult to get up for work.  Once the employee returned to work, he learned that he could have adjusted his work hours and reduced them slightly, but kept working for the entire 3 months. Why didn’t he then? Because no-one asked, so he didn’t know this option existed. 

Had the employer simply taken the time to ask him what he was able to manage, a solution may have been found. The employee wouldn’t have had to take 3 months off, and the company wouldn’t have had to find and hire a replacement in the meantime. All avoidable had the employer taken the time to reach out to the employee to see what his needs were.

This simple communication can be daunting at first, but with practice it gets easier. All you have to do is be human. As an employer, if one of your employees hands you a sick note, make a time to sit down with the employee to ask him or her why they’re leaving, and see if there’s not something that you can do so that the individual maybe doesn’t need to take all that time off. As an employee, if you are in need of some adjustments so that you feel better and more comfortable at work, then reach out to your employer, see if adjustments can be made so that maybe you don’t need to get a doctors’ note of absence. Read why communication is key during an employee’s sick leave.

Diana Vissers is the Founder and Director of Corporate Services at Work to Wellness Rehabilitation Inc. – a Canadian company providing expert disability management services to Canadian customers. She is in the business of making your place of business healthy, safe and productive. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for the latest news and updates on health, wellness and integrated disability management.