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Can my supervisor ask personal questions about my sick leave?

Bureaupat has the answer

By Bureaupat Aug 26 2009, 01:47 AM

Photo by ransford

Photo by ransford

Dear Bureaupat,

I have no past history of excess leave usage or sick leave abuse, but my supervisor asked me for a doctor's note for one day of sick leave. She also asked me personal questions regarding my ailment/sickness. Is this line of questioning a violation of privacy, and can she request a doctor's note?

Dear Special Attention,

From your question, I can't tell if your supervisor is out of line or if they have a genuine concern about your health and welfare, but most likely the former.

Let's tackle the sick note question first. What may surprise you is that you do not have the right to take sick leave whenever you feel like it.

Whether you are an employee in the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), sick leave may be granted by the supervisor for absences for illness, injury, medical or psychological appointments and/or treatment, adoption of a child, or certain circumstances involving contagious diseases in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. Sick leave also may be granted for purposes set forth in the Family and Medical Leave Act and for Sick Leave for Family Care.

While we don't plan for illness, most supervisors are understanding and will grant your leave when you call in with the hoarse voice, cough and wheeze. After all, it is in the best interest of the organization to keep you home so you get better and don't infect the rest of us with the bird flu, piggy flu or whatever is the ailment of the week.

We all know sickness is part of the human experience, but even the most naïve supervisor will eventually wise up if you are "sick" every time there is an afterwork happy hour or 3-day weekend.

So, the answer to your question is... yes, your supervisor can ask for a doctor's note when he or she has reasonable grounds to suspect sick leave abuse.

You may be required to provide your supervisor with medical certification:

- for an unscheduled absence in excess of three (3) consecutive workdays;

- for any use of sick leave if the individual is officially on leave restriction;

- for a chronic condition which does not necessarily require medical treatment although absence from work may be necessary.

But in your particular case, it appears your supervisor is out of line. While supervisors have authority to approve or deny leave requests, they really must have due cause to request a doctor's note for one day of sick leave. So I recommend you ask to meet with your supervisor to clarify her concerns about your use of sick leave. If after that meeting you feel that you are being unjustly monitored, meet with your local equal employment office (EEO) to discuss your options. If you are part of an employee union, contact your union steward.

Regarding her interest in the particulars of your sick leave request, your supervisor may ask the particulars of your sickness or aliment but you do not have to tell them.

Your medical history is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy Rule. So, while your employer can ask for proof of the medical event, they are not authorized to obtain the level of detail described in your question.

Again, if you feel that you are being unjustly monitored, meet with your local EEO to discuss your options. 

Or you can use Bureaupat's brazen approach and say you have a rare disease that can only be transmitted to nosy supervisors. That usually does the trick.


Yours in Gov,



More Q&A from Bureaupat:

[+] Can a retired federal employee be rehired for an hourly wage?

[+] Can I use my 12 weeks of sick leave prior to retirement?

[+] Would a 30-day LWOP be considered a creditable service break?


Read More: Sick Leave, Surviving The Bureaucracy, Dear Bureaupat


September 17, 2009 1:31 PM

Can a GS-9 act as a supervisor over WG-11 and below employees when WS is out for the day and he assigns the GS-9 as acting supervisor?

J Bartlett
March 30, 2010 2:12 PM

a supervisor with a history of harassing me called my doctor to get my medical informantion from him. she had a doctors note from him already but told him that she was not accepting it and needed to know more of my condition. He did not talk to her. What can I do to take action against her beside EEO for my branch which is nothing but a joke and a waste of time. Can I sue her for something? I feel disgusted by her actions.












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