I am writing this as I recover from an especially tough bout of bronchitis. As I lay on my couch contemplating whether to go to the doctor and be told that there is nothing she can do for me other than rid my wallet the burden of my co-pay, my mind drifts to that seemingly universal practice of requiring a doctor’s note after being out for 3 days.
So, where did the so-called 3-day rule come from, and why is it so prevalent? I’m going to be honest and say that I am not 100% sure, though not being sure has never stopped me from speculating. In this case, my bet is that it goes back to the oh-so-ambiguous “serious health condition” piece of the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993.
One reason for taking a leave of absence under the FMLA is if you or an immediate family member has a “serious health condition.” Since that language is pretty vague, the criteria had to be fine-tuned a bit, a responsibility that fell to the Department of Labor first, and then the courts. When all the shouting was over, a definition of sorts arose: if someone is incapacitated for more than 3 days, requiring ongoing medical treatment, then they have a serious health condition.
So, even if the FMLA isn’t the reason for the 3-days-and-I-need-a-doctor’s-note rule, it still makes sense that an employer would ask for it. If someone is going to be out for 3 days in a row, their condition may actually be a “serious health condition” and the employer may be obligated to offer additional job protection under the FMLA. If you are the employee, FMLA is a benefit that you may be entitled to and can provide you with an extra layer of job protection, which is not something to be taken lightly. Of course there are other factors that also determine whether someone is eligible for FMLA. I could easily write a whole separate post (or more) on the topic, but in the meantime click here for a handy guide.
The bottom line is this: regardless where you fall, employee or employer, if you (or your employee) is out for three or more days, it is generally best to get (or ask for) a doctor’s note. It is a good protection for both of you.
With that I leave you with the immortal Sweet Brown and her thoughts on getting bronchitis. I will tell you that they mirror my own.
Oh, and I am feeling better. Thanks for asking.