Can California employers require employees who request paid sick leave to provide a note from their doctors? I addressed that question last May in response to a webinar put out by the California Department of Industrial Relations, the agency that enforces California’s Paid Sick Leave law. In that webinar, the DIR said that requiring employees to provide doctors’ notes could be construed as unlawful interference with their statutory right to the leave.
Having heard nothing further on the issue, I wrote an e-mail to the DIR at AB1522@dir.ca.gov. According to the response I received last week, the agency is sticking to its guns. They say in their response that, since there’s nothing explicitly allowing employers to ask for doctors’ notes, conditioning the leave on the employee providing one “can arguably interfere with the employee’s use of paid sick leave….” The DIR says that it will analyze whether denying leave for failure to provide a note constitutes retaliation “according to the unique facts of the case.”
Here’s the unedited text of the DIR’s response to my inquiry: Text of AB 1522 e-mail.
As I’ve said before, if paid sick leave is intended to provide a benefit for employees who validly need it, prohibiting doctors’ notes is ridiculous. If, instead, the law is intended as another way to subject well-meaning employers to expensive lawsuits and agency enforcement actions, then it makes perfect sense.
I still believe that the risk of an interference or retaliation claim from asking for a doctor’s note is less than the risk of employees abusing this leave to get three extra paid days off per year. However, the law remains unclear on this point, with nothing but a somewhat equivocal agency interpretation to go on. We’ll continue to watch this issue.