Thursday, December 11, 2014

Requiring a Doctor's Note for Illness

This evening I read this article about a Canadian doctor who "wrote a fantastic response to employers who require doctor's notes for sick days." In essence, this doctor argues that by requiring employees to visit the doctor to acquire a medical note validating the employee's illness, an "unnecessary burden is placed on the healthcare system and exposes seriously ill patients...to viruses that could cause detrimental consequences to their [the patients'] health." The doctor goes on to say that if this practice continues, the company that requires this action will be billed directly by the doctor's office.

For about three months, I worked as a preschool teacher in an eastern Pennsylvania daycare that required all employees who took a sick day to bring in a doctor's note, otherwise we were in breach of contract and would face consequences, the specifics of which I no longer remember. Yes, we had to sign a contract upon being hired. The contract noted that, among other things, if we broke our contract (by leaving before three months, or by not bringing in a doctor's note after calling out sick, etc.) we had to pay the daycare $500. After the three months were up, one would sign another contract, the length or specifics of which I remain ignorant; after those three months, I worked there for a little while longer before teaching for two semesters at Lehigh Carbon Community College (which I liked a lot better and paid a lot more).

Bringing in a doctor's note when sick seems ludicrous, considering that much of the time, one's sickness does not require a visit to the doctor. Most of the time, for things like the flu, one might be sick enough to legitimately warrant time off from work, but going to a doctor won't solve anything. (Furthermore, I hadn't health insurance at the time, so there was the added bonus of paying even more out of pocket.)

As a side note: This was the same place that insisted I bring in a copy of my high school diploma, which, you know, who keeps theirs? I might have mine somewhere at my parents', but in the meantime I had obtained both a two-year and four-year degree; I could certainly show them the diploma from my undergraduate institution, which was still somewhat recent. "We need to see your high school diploma!" "Well, I have no idea where it is. I can show you my college diploma, though." "We need your high school diploma." And back and forth a bit until I said, if I graduated from college with a Bachelor's degree, I probably have a high school diploma, wouldn't you agree? "...Oh, yeah."

I worked at this daycare beginning in the fall, and into December, when it's not unreasonable for snow to fall. One morning, I set out in really dangerous, icy, snowy conditions. I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania, and lived there for more then 20 years, so I'm not afraid of driving in snow, but the I-78 was all backed up, the road was slippery, it really was dangerous, and I simply didn't feel safe. I turned around and came home, called work, and told them I wasn't coming in, "Well, you know that might cause problems." "Hey, that's okay, do what needs to be done. I don't feel safe driving in that." Nothing ever did happen, possibly because the contract had already been fulfilled, but at this point I don't remember.

Daycare workers are absolutely underpaid; I was earning between $8 and $9 an hour because I had a four-year degree; this was higher than most of the other employees. It's physically demanding work, and between that and the low pay there tends to be a lot of turnover, so I understand the lengths to which this daycare and other employers might have felt it necessary to go to in order to retain staff, but requiring a doctor's note seems unwarranted, and does not exactly fill employees with the sense of being trusted or valued. It's a lousy cycle.

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