Doctors sick of signing sick notes

Tyler Clarke
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Health region

Mustering up the strength to see a doctor to sign a sick note for one’s employer can be a hassle for employees and a waste of time for physicians.


“We’re here to see someone if they have a medical reason to be seen,” Prince Albert Regional Medical Association president Stan Oleksinski summarized.

“If it’s just for a note, that’s probably not appropriate use of our resources, for sure.”

As a physician at the West Hill Medical Clinic, Oleksinski said that patients requesting medical notes is commonplace and occasionally comes from people who might otherwise have been better off staying home.

Earlier this week, the Ontario Medical Association made headlines across the nation for calling on employers to stop requiring doctor’s notes from employees who call in sick.

Saskatchewan Medical Association president Clare Kozroski said that she fully backs this sentiment, noting that the Saskatchewan organization has “been considering that … for decades.”

“There are also certain employers and certain insurance companies that require us to document things that we think are inappropriate use of physicians’ time,” she said. “I think it’s wrong to use an over-burdened health system to deal with workplace attendance issues.”

“If a worker has the good sense to stay home when they’re too ill to go to work, and the good judgment to stay out of my office when they’re too well to be there, then that worker should be commended for that.

“If getting a piece of paper is the only reason a person is attending my office, then he or she is in the wrong place.”

In his interview with CBC radio, Ontario Medical Association President Scott Wooder said that doctors should not serve as truant officers -- a comment Kozroski cites as a key point against sick note requirements.

If it’s just for a note, that’s probably not appropriate use of our resources, for sure Stan Oleksinski

“If an employer doesn’t trust their employees to be telling the truth … well, that’s perhaps something that the workplace has to improve or correct,” she summarized.

Although unhappy to waste time on seeing patients for the sole purpose of signing a sick note, Kozroski accepts that it’s out of the employees’ hands.

Employers need to re-consider their policies, she said, noting that the requirement for a doctor’s note within the first few days is “not inappropriate,” but a note after five days might be more reasonable.

“Usually, if someone needs to stay home because they’ve got an early cold or flu type of illness, we want them to stay home and drink their fluids and rest up,” she summarized.

“We don’t want them to cough and sneeze in close proximity to the rest of the people in the clinic.”

Oleksinski said that there’s no clear solution to the problem of employees faking illness, but that he’s happy to have seen the floodgates of conversation open in what he hopes will lead to a resolution.

“Employers do, of course, require their employees to come to work as best they can, and I don’t have a good answer as to how we find that balance,” he said.

“There should be discussion between employers, health-care providers as well as the public in terms of what is the expectation and what is reasonable … because it affects all of us.”

Organizations: Ontario Medical Association, Prince Albert Regional Medical Association, West Hill Medical Clinic Saskatchewan Medical Association Saskatchewan organization CBC

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Recent comments

  • mattzweck
    July 09, 2014 - 20:08

    were i work at they use to have leave of absence sick day and vacation time now they just have personal time. no paid holidays which is ridicules. and have to have a doctors note for anything. feels like prison. and a waste of time i work for business for ten years.

  • Sara
    January 20, 2014 - 05:00

    WHAT is this doctor complaining about?!!! If a doctor writes a sick note, he or she GETS PAID!! What's it to them? I am so sick of doctors like this who think they are God and that they can complain about things that are part of their job because they think they are too superior to other people because they are a doctor. It's ridiculous! A doctor's job is to fill out forms and do paperwork and treat patients. If they don't like the paperwork part of their job, then they may as well not write prescriptions either! And another rotten thing doctors do is write a short sentence as a sick note on a piece of prescription pad paper and then charge $10! Ten dollars?? For writing a sentence? Ridiculous!! Then these idiots are complaining!

    • Nobody in particular
      March 25, 2014 - 16:34

      (A little late but...) What's it to them? Why do they think they're God? Sure, a doctor's job is to fill out forms, do paperwork, and treat patients, but do you know what else they do? They try to keep people healthy, and make sure they recover from their illness. Not once does it mention money in the article. It's in the best interest of both doctors and patients that they rest, instead of going to work or a hospital, because if you can sit in a hospital for multiple hours just for a sick note, you might as well go to work, and get paid instead, which eventually infects more people, and does not help your case. Heck, I lost my voice for all of last month BECAUSE I strained myself, instead of resting.

  • Terri
    January 16, 2014 - 12:53

    Finally! It is rediculous that we have to prove that we are sick to these people..if they are so concerned then they sould come to our homes and see or pay for the Dr's notes themselves. I live out of town so in order to get a Dr note for my company I have to drag myself out of bed, drive all the way into the city and then sit in a Dr office possibly getting sicker or others around me sick to waist 5 minutes of the Dr's time to appease my bosses.

  • jason
    January 13, 2014 - 22:19

    Employer should be paying for sick note.Why as a taxpayer should I pay for someone to see a doctor for a work sick note.The onus is on the employer to pay for it not the taxpayer.The employee should not have to pay for it if it is demanded by the employer.

  • A nurse who see's this first hand.
    January 13, 2014 - 10:30

    As a nurse I see a lot of wasted tax payers dollars by using health care provider when they are not needed. If you, as an employer, hire a person after doing an interview, checking references but still do not trust that they can make a decision regarding their own health, then you seriously need to reconsider either your hiring procedures or possibly, your inability to trust. This type of behavior leads to unhappy employees who may fake sick days but honestly, probably need a mental health day from dealing with their crappy boss all week. As an adult, most of us know if we are sick, and we realize that rest is the best medicine for our cold/flu. As well, no healthcare provider wants a person with a cold coming into their office coughing all over patients who are possibly immunocomprimized such as cancer patients or small children causing these people to get sick and this can be life threatening for them. If all you are only worried about your bottom line and busting the "fakers" you should know that even though a person pays for a sick note, the doctor still bills your provincial government for a service. And if someone is paying for a sick note, they will always get one. A doctor can not deny a patient of feeling sick. Seriously rethink your ignorant ways as they are costing our province a lot of money!!!

    • Greg Lanick
      January 13, 2014 - 17:15

      What happens if I come into a job where there are pre-existing employees. Oops... there goes your whole argument. And let me get this straight.... you don't want sick people coming into the hospital cause they may cough on you.... seriously?

  • Robert
    January 12, 2014 - 22:05

    Businesses need and depend on reliable employees to show up for work regularly and do their jobs. Many companies run with as few paid staff hours as they can get away with in order to save money or even just to survive in our economy. There are many, many kinds of absences that are excusable and many that are not too. A lot of this rests with the will power of the individual too. One would think that in service industry jobs that offer most people only part time hours, irregular hours and pay pittance wages that most employees would do what ever they could to work each and every single hour they can just so they can survive and maybe have just a bit extra for fun once in a while...many even balance 2-3 jobs to do this, but yet so many take unpaid "sick" days anyways, even for questionable reasons or when they really could work with the help of some rest and maybe some medication to help them along, such as a garden variety cold or flu that may last as little as a few hours, or something minor that is like flu for that matter, but doesn't last very long. Asking an employee to provide a note, and often at his or her own expense gradually cuts down on these absences. Many employers will permit an employee to take one day off as being sick but require a note if it's two or more days. Since most have to pay for those notes to be signed, many often opt for just one day off and come back to work regardless of how they are feeling because they may not have the money available at a given time, like 3 days before payday for instance. Removal of such policies would only encourage many, especially the fakers and those who rely more on other people and other sources of income for their survival and financial well being, to take even more sick days, take them more often and take more days off at a time, leaving an employer and the rest of the workers short handed maybe for weeks at a time for reasons that might not even be legitimate. Understandable, if the employee has a serious illness and it's backed up from a doctor. I can also see from a doctor's perspective too as most of them are over loaded with patients and are short of time and as mentioned, some of those people who go to the doctor for even the slightest discomforts would be better off just by staying home and resting anyways, and over the counter medications do usually help somewhat too. I happen to work in a place where most are hired part time, wages are low and where many, many people phone in "sick" often for one reason or another under the sun and the rest who remain have to work much harder for their money and always compensate for the missing ones, often the very same people or those who make sure they take extra "long weekends" by making sure their "sick" day falls on the first or last day of work. And after all, whether or not an employees would get paid for additional sick time with a doctor's note, shelling out that extra $50 for the note might cut into their party funds for the time they want off or they just might not have the money to spend that way at all. Does not leave employers or the rest of the people who work for them in a good position at all! For me, phoning in "sick" even for one day just because I might not feel motivated to go to work on a given day, would rather do something else or have somewhat of an illness that would make me feel more comfortable resting at home or even going to see a doctor about it, is almost unthinkable because that might mean going short of groceries, letting a bill slide or doing without something else I am used to having or would like to have at a given time. But not so many have that kind of work ethic any more anyways, they expect others to take care of them and for their employers to be always passionate towards them and tolerable of their situations.

  • Divad_08
    January 12, 2014 - 12:26

    With all of the part time, service industry jobs out there I have to ask, how many employers actually give out benefits and paid sick days anymore? If a person calls in sick and is losing/docked pay for the day, why should the employee have to get a doctor's note? I can see if the employer offered paid sick days but if that's not the case, the employer should just move on.

  • Shannon Sutherland
    January 12, 2014 - 09:34

    As an employer, we need to know what is going on with the employee. If the employee is seriously sick, then we need to know to protect our business and the rest of the employees. We also deal with alot of fakers, so this is one way that we know for sure. If the attending physican would tell the patient that there is nothing wrong and quit wasting your time and the employers. Do not keep giving out pain meds for fake pain and and sickness., so many people go to the doctors and wste their time, because they have become addicts to meds. I have dealt with individuals, who don't want to work, but receive pay check. So I think that when people waste a doctors time they should pay if the doctor is positive that the individual has just went , to get out of work or because they are addicted. I do not know the solution, but maybe it is time for everyone start calling individual on how sick they are or not and if not they pay for wasting everyones time.

  • Jeff
    January 11, 2014 - 23:40

    Sick notes can serve many purposes. True they are a hassle for all concerned, but in most cases employers require these notes for good reasons. Most if not all employers assume every sick day is legitimate but we all know there is a small percentage of people who will exploit this. Unfortunately, many employers who track sick usage discover patterns like Fridays before a long weekend, or right after a pay day or if the employee was denied time off for some reason. Sometimes the requirement for the sick note is based on Occupational Health & Safety requirements like during the flu season, or where a public health advisory is out for something like H1N1. In such cases the employer has to determine if a worker should in fact stay home and may require medical confirmation that they pose no risk to clients or coworkers. In many cases, the procedure for requiring notes is strictly controlled by policy, or labour agreements. What is needful for everyone to realize is that employers bear significant costs and responsibilities for how they treat ill or injured employees. Also, many doctors are quite free in granting patients time off without ever verifying that any illness was present. In Saskatchewan a worker is protected by legislation for up to twelve days per year for general non-specific sick days. Employers have to manage their businesses accordingly.

  • Hector martinez
    January 11, 2014 - 22:03

    I truly believe that some employers just abuse of the employee because they believe they had power on their employes just because they give a job

  • A honest employee
    January 11, 2014 - 21:25

    I believe if we as employees were valued for the work we do instead of always laying off front line workers then there would not be miss use of sick time.There is always cutbacks to front line worker and another management position created and never any honest reward for the employee. Employer should rethink how important a good employee is and punish the employees that do abuse the sick time after all management no who does and does not abuse.

  • A honest employee
    January 11, 2014 - 21:24

    I believe if we as employees were valued for the work we do instead of always laying off front line workers then there would not be miss use of sick time.There is always cutbacks to front line worker and another management position created and never any honest reward for the employee. Employer should rethink how important a good employee is and punish the employees that do abuse the sick time after all management no who does and does not abuse.

  • Greg Lanick
    January 11, 2014 - 21:03

    Why do doctors exist if not to fix the sick? Are they not getting paid enough? If we head down a path where certain ailments do not require a doctor's visit where do we draw the line - colds, flu, lung infections, scurvy?

  • Flo
    January 11, 2014 - 13:59

    This is for sure one of the most frustrating things about flu season. If a person is sick with the flu, they should be home in bed. Going to the doctors office only spreads the flu to people with sprains, broken bones, surgical patients and pregnant women/babies who are there for check ups that are necessary. Work places need to trust that employees do not miss work unless they truly need to be away. I have yet to see a flu or cold that lasts for only a day! 2 or 3 days is not unreasonable, and I would far rather that my coworkers stay home than come to work and spread their germs.

  • Jenn
    January 11, 2014 - 13:29

    I agree with the Dr's. My boyfriends employer DEMANDS a sick note even when he's off for a day. Considering he gets 12 sick days per year that are his to use it is completely ridiculous to ask every time. However if someone is sick for 3 days in a row i can understand. It's also unacceptable that he had to waste a Dr's time when it could be used for someone who really needs it

  • Al Flint
    January 11, 2014 - 12:08

    As a manager of a department, We where told to get Doctor Notes by the employer to impose employees hardship more than anything else, most notes went in the garbage.

  • Leah
    January 11, 2014 - 11:27

    It also costs an employee 25 for that note.

  • mom
    January 11, 2014 - 09:40

    Employers who want doctors notes should be required to have a doctor or a nurse on staff to do this. And a sick note because you are sick one day? That's just ridiculous and a waste of everybody's time.

  • Robinoxford
    January 11, 2014 - 08:12

    No work no money needs no note.

  • Denise
    January 11, 2014 - 06:43

    There was a time where I worked that you could accumulate your sick time. If you didn't use it and you accumulated up to max , when you quit or retired you would get this as a pay out. People rarely called in sick when this was in place unless they were truly sick

  • guest
    January 11, 2014 - 02:34

    If the doctors would just stop selling the notes, it would eliminate the problem. If the person is not sick, then the person doesn't get a note. Thus the person has to go back to work without note and explain why the doctor didn't give a note.

    • dale
      January 12, 2014 - 08:07

      Guest.... your comment that employees should have to go back to work and explain why the Dr would not provide a note is very narrow minded. The problem lies in section 239 of the Canada Labour Code where it states that the employer is entitled to request an employee produce a Dr note within 15 day of returning to work. Coming from an industry that employees are required to be available for work 24/7 and do not have paid ot unpaid sick days allotted for being sick, I find it rather offensive that you would suggest that because a Dr was unwilling to provide a note when I was off sick that I would be required to explain this to my employer. Arbitrated jurisprudence is clear, If I fail to produce a Dr note after being off sick I can be dismissed with no recourse. The government should be after the abusing company's, not the abused employees.

  • Reinier Kanis
    January 11, 2014 - 02:20

    If employers were willing to pay a premium bill for tying up our medical system, then fine, but otherwise doctors should refuse to do it.

  • joe
    January 11, 2014 - 00:48

    Simple! Legislate that employees are not allowed to ask for sick notes unless the employee is away for a long time like a month. Give them one day a month with pay, any more than that they lose pay.

    • Bill
      January 11, 2014 - 17:01

      Joe, you must be in human day a month? Lol

    • Malzy
      January 12, 2014 - 06:42

      Though it is legislated in most jurisdictions to give sick days to employees, no jurisdiction has legislation requiring that any pay is necessary for sick days. So one day a month sick leave paid, and any others unpaid is actually above and beyond what is expected.