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Are you ill enough to justify the day off?

If you’re suffering from a cold, your manager is allowed to ask when you expect to return to work, reports Alison Green for 


You wake up feeling ill, and you call your boss to let her know that you’re taking a sick day. Most managers will simply tell you to feel better soon. But what if you have a manager who demands to know exactly what’s wrong with you and makes you feel like you need to prove you’re sick enough to justify the day off?

Most workers are unclear on what their employers have the right to ask when they call out sick – and many employers aren’t sure either.

In general, employers are allowed to ask for the details of your illness. “It’s reasonable for a manager to ask an employee what’s wrong. Otherwise, it would be a no-questions-asked sick leave policy, and that would quickly be abused,” says Bryan Cavanaugh, a St. Louis-based employment attorney. “Asking what is wrong requires the employee to give a brief and general explanation about why he or she is absent, e.g., the employee’s child is sick, the employee has a general illness or the employee has a major or minor injury.”

In general, when you call in sick, your manager can ask any follow-up questions she wishes. Of course, as a general best practice, managers should respect your privacy and stick to asking about when you expect to return to work, but the law does give employers some leeway in most cases.

Employers can indeed require doctors’ notes when you use sick leave. However, they should not require the note to include a diagnosis or other private medical information; rather, the note should simply state that you were seen by a medical office and/or confirm your need to use sick leave.

That said, minor illnesses, such as colds and the flu, don’t generally require a doctor’s care, and requiring a doctor’s note in order to use sick time discourages employees from staying home when they’re ill. That’s an unfair burden on truly sick employees, who will have to drag themselves to a doctor when a few days of resting in bed will cure them.

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