Although many employees believe that a doctor’s note would automatically excuse their absences from work, a doctor’s note does not justify employees’ absences in all cases.  

According to the California Chamber of Commerce, when an employee presents a doctor’s note following an absence, the employer should assess and determine whether the absence should be legally protected, such as under the disability accommodation or family leave laws, or if it just is an unprotected sick day, such as for a cold or medical appointment for a minor ailment.  

As a California employer, you need to consider the following aspects when addressing an employee’s leave of absence: 


Employee’s Reason for Absence 

Employees Reason fo Absence

First, California employers must determine if the employee’s absence qualifies as any of the following, by assessing the information provided in the doctor’s note and the note the employee may have provided to their supervisor or HR: 

  • A “serious health condition” protected by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and/or the California Family Rights Act (CFRA); or 
  • A “disability” protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). 

For instance, while a doctor’s note might only mention that a visit occurred on a specific date, the employee might have disclosed further information to their supervisor or HR, such as that the visit was intended to seek treatment for some serious health condition that could be protected under the either of the laws mentioned above. 

Furthermore, there are other instances where a doctor’s note may offer legal protection from disciplinary action, such as pregnancy disability leave, organ or bone marrow donation leave, or time off for medical treatment related to a crime or domestic abuse. 


Employer Legal Responsibility 

Employer Legal Responsibility

 An employee does not specifically have to ask for “family leave” or approach HR saying something along the lines of, “I need a reasonable accommodation for my disability.”  

The California law presumes that employees are not experts in FMLA, CFRA, ADA, or FEHA, and focuses instead on whether the employer knew or should have known of the employee’s disability or serious health condition entitling them to legal protections.  

If the employer is aware (or should have been), it is the employer’s responsibility to: 

  •  Advise the employee that the time off may be designated as protected FMLA/CRFA; or 
  • Initiate an interactive process to determine whether a disability can be reasonably accommodated, which may include excusing absences related to the disability.  


Medical certification 

request further medical certification beyond a doctor’s note indicating

California employers are entitled to request further medical certification beyond a doctor’s note indicating the employee attended a doctor’s appointment on a specific date. Additional documentation will need to substantiate that the employee has a disability or serious health condition. Depending on the law that applies, the employee should provide certain additional information.  

In addition, there are different employee size thresholds that must be met for the disability and protected leave laws to apply. For instance, eligibility for FMLA and CRFA require the employee to have one year of service and a minimum of 1,250 hours worked in the past year to be eligible for protected time off. 


Why choose California Labor Solutions?   

California Labor Solutions (CLS) is one of the only HR firms that is licensed* to conduct workplace investigations in California. We serve private businesses and public sector organizations in California. We have conducted hundreds of neutral, objective, and unbiased workplace investigations for employee complaints relating to allegations of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and various types of employee misconduct with the utmost quality, detail, and efficiency. 

*California Private Investigator License Number 26311.