When I was a kid and I was absent from school — whether because I was sick or just had a routine visit to the doctor or dentist — I had to produce a doctor’s note to explain my whereabouts. Period.

The rule was so culturally fixed and strictly enforced that in high school, several kids created booming businesses by writing fake doctor’s notes for kids who had been absent, but most certainly not sick.

And as annoying as it was to bring in a doctor’s note for missing homeroom because I was getting my teeth cleaned, I don’t understand why this kind of policy was permissible in schools (where students are not getting paid, and their absences do not cost thousands in lost productivity), yet is problematic in the workplace.

All the same, a 2010 federal court decision has thrown up a roadblock to employers whose attendance/paid sick time/family and medical leave policies require employees to justify their absences with doctor's notes.

In the case, Jackson v. Jernberg Industries, Inc., a Northern Illinois district court judge ruled that a policy requiring employees to produce a doctor’s note for each absence occurring during intermittent family-medical leave violates the Family and Medical Leave Act, finding that such a policy constituted “impermissible interference” by the employer.

Asking for a doctor’s note is “impermissible interference”? Sheesh.

Anne Larson, chair of the labor & employment group at Chicago-based Much Shelist, offers details and analysis of the case here, but it seems that the long and short of it is that the ruling is yet another wrinkle in the already complicated area of FMLA enforcement. 

What do you think? Does your FMLA/attendance/sick time policy require employees to submit doctor’s notes? If so, will you consider changing that policy in light of the Jackson v. Jernberg ruling? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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