No need for sick notes builds trust in workplace, says HR specialist

An HR specialist in Waterloo says not requiring a doctor's note from workers can create a more trusting environment in the workplace.

Changes give employees more flexibility says one talent specialist at Sortable in Kitchener

Caryn Petker is the vice president of talent at Sortable, a start-up company based in Kitchener. She says not requiring doctor's notes from employees establishes more trust and builds a reciprocal relationship. (Submitted by Caryn Petker)

Employers can no longer require a doctor's note from workers if they want to take a sick day, a change one human resources specialist says gives workers more flexibility.

Caryn Petker, vice president of the talent department at Sortable, an ad-optimization company based in Kitchener, has been working in human resources for 15 years. She said most employers had the doctor's note policy to prevent an abuse of the privilege. 

Petker says the company Sortable doesn't have "hard and fast rules" about calling-in sick. (Sortable)

"I have worked at companies where we did have a doctor's note requirement, but it wasn't always invoked," she said. "We might've had that policy, but it was just at the manager's discretion and it was dependent on comfort levels." 

But Petker said she agrees people shouldn't be going to their doctor just to get a note.

"Let's face it, if somebody's sick, sometimes they just need rest and they just need to be in bed," she said. "Going to sit in a clinic or in a doctor's office ... it just doesn't help them get better realistically,"

A note apparently written by a doctor in Alberta went viral in 2015 after a photo was posted to Reddit. The doctor called the writing of the note a waste of time and tax dollars. (eaglel66/Reddit)

No change for some employers

New changes to Ontario's Employment Standards Act came into effect at the start of the new year, which included banning employers from requiring a doctor's note for sick days.

Employees must now have at least 10 personal emergency leave days per year, without needing to provide medical authorization for them. And out of the 10 days, they must be paid for two by their employer. 

Reasons for personal emergency leave can include illness, taking care of sick family members, or experiencing or being threatened by domestic or sexual violence.

Most of the businesses CBC K-W reached out to said they didn't require sick notes, so the new rules didn't apply to them.

If somebody's sick, sometimes they just need rest and they just need to be in bed, says Caryn Petker, vice president of the talent department at Sortable in Kitchener. (iStock)

Managing 'exceptions' and 'concerns' 

Petker's current employer, Sortable, has an annual revenue of up to $20 million and is deemed as one of the fastest growing companies in the region. The start-up has 85 employees and doesn't require them to submit a doctor's note to take a personal day off. 

Petker said Sortable doesn't have "hard and fast rules" about calling-in sick. Employees are entitled to five paid sick-days and if they request long-term medical leave, the case would be evaluated by a third party adjudicator. 

"We think that by showing people that we trust them, it becomes a reciprocal relationship," she said. "People are taking time off just because they need it. We also know that they are owning their work and looking out for the company's best interest because of that reciprocal relationship." 

Petker said if an employee exceeds their amount of sick-days or if there is a concern about the pattern of absence, then the human resource team might "take extra steps to outline expectations on how sick-time is handled." 

"We also want to make sure people aren't using vacations to cover sick time. We think vacation is for people to relax," she said. 

"Again, we don't have a clear policy, we just manage exceptions as they come up."