Doctor’s Note Conundrum

Early this month I needed to use sick time for nearly a week due to symptoms of the common cold. I was told on the phone that a Doctor’s note is required by LAPL in order to return to work when out sick for more than 3 days.

So the night before returning to work I went to Kaiser Hospital and got the required note. It took more than 2 1/2 hours of travel time, waiting time, and examination time. It cost me a Kaiser co-payment fee and Kaiser parking fees.

My question was this – was all this really necessary? – or was it based on a misunderstanding of the LAPL Doctor’s Note Policy?

It’s well known that there is “no cure for the common cold”. For example, Wikipedia (s.v. “Common cold”) states the following:

“Acute viral rhinopharyngitis, or acute coryza, usually known
as the common cold, is a highly contagious, viral infectious disease of the upper respiratory system, . . . Common symptoms are sore throat, runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing and coughing; . . . The symptoms of a cold usually resolve after about one week, but can last up to two. . . . There are no antiviral drugs approved to treat or
cure the infection; all medications used are palliative and treat symptoms only. . . .”.

Since there’s no treatment for this – there’s no reason to seek treatment for it.

No reasonable person – knowing in advance that the doctor will do nothing except tell him to “go home and rest” – would spend hours traveling, parking, sitting in waiting rooms and examination rooms, just to be told to “go home and rest”. It would be better for everyone involved for an employee with a common cold to just stay home and rest. Therefore, in this case, the only reason for going to Kaiser is to satisfy the DNP.

LAPL Personnel Procedures Manual, sec. 13.522 (“Verification of Illness/Injury”) is apparently the basis for the DNP. It states the following:

“Satisfactory and suitable proof, such as a doctor’s
certificate, must be furnished for any period of personal illness longer than three consecutive working days . . .”.

The purpose of the DNP is not to verify by a medical person that the employee is no longer contagious – a health threat to co-workers – and that it’s therefore safe for him to return to work. It’s to provide “proof” (evidence) that the employee was really sick.

The doctor’s note is just one example given of “satisfactory and suitable proof” of this. But a medical degree isn’t required to recognize that someone has a common cold. Indeed, my supervisor was witness to my illness when I left work early the day before calling in sick. What does the doctor’s note add as far as “proof” that I was sick?

In California, a written declaration signed under penalty of perjury is considered adequate proof for a number of things (e.g., proof of service, declarations attached to ex parte motions, etc.). It stands as “proof” of the facts stated therein – unless rebutted by an opposing declaration.

A declaration (signed by myself and/or other witnesses) stating that I had particular medical symptons preventing me from coming to work should also be adequate for LAPL. Is this indeed adequate? And if not, why not?

The implication of the DNP is that the employee must go to the doctor while he is still sick (otherwise how does the doctor know that he was sick in the past?).

But how can the doctor give him a “back to work” (aka “return to work”, “release to work”) note if he is not yet ready to go back to work?

Does the employee need to go twice to the doctor (once to prove that he is sick and once again to prove that he is well enough to go back to work)? In other words, to what extent, if any, is the required note from the doctor a true “back to work” note?

Furthermore, from LAPL’s point of view, a rigid interpretation of DNP may result in lost employee productivity as follows:

If, because of DNP, an employee must get out of his sick bed to go somewhere, he may as well go to the workplace – on the fourth day of illness – rather than to the doctor. He then saves sick time hours and saves the time and expense of going to the doctor. However, by doing this he exposes fellow employees to his “highly contagious” disease which, if other employees catch it, could result in a much higher total employee use of sick time and lost productivity. And it’s not be morally worse for the sick employee to come to the workplace than to go to the hospital waiting room (to infect the innocent people there).

After returning to work I requested clarification – for the future – of the LAPL Doctor’s Note Policy (“DNP”). But I never received it.

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