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Can an Employer Ask Why You are Sick?

April 30, 2023 Legal Team

As an employee, you may have encountered a situation where your employer asks you why you are sick or what is causing your absence. This can be a sensitive issue, and it is important to understand your rights and responsibilities in such situations.

What You Are Legally Required to Tell Your Employer

In general, employers have the right to inquire about an employee’s absence from work due to illness or injury. However, there are limitations to the type and extent of information that an employer can request.

Firstly, an employer can only ask for information relevant to the employee’s absence from work. For example, if you call in sick, the employer may ask for the expected duration of absence, your ability to perform their job duties, whether you are under medical treatment or supervision, and to produce a doctor’s note if it will be more than one day.

An employer cannot require employees to disclose specific medical information about their illness or condition. This means you do not have to give details on your medical history, diagnosis, or treatment unless you consent to it. Medical information is considered personal and confidential, and an employer must respect an employee’s privacy. Therefore, if you feel uncomfortable disclosing information about your illness or injury, you can simply state that you are sick and cannot come to work.

Sick Day Rights in California

Most California employers are required to provide their employees with paid sick leave. Employees are entitled to accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. This leave can be used for the employee’s own health needs or to care for a family member. However, employers can cap it at 24 hours or three days (whichever is greater) per 12-month period. After your paid sick leave hours have run out, you can still take unpaid sick leave, and you may still be protected from losing your job under California and federal leave laws like CFRA and FMLA.

Can an Employer Retaliate Against Me for Using Sick Time?

It is illegal for an employer to harass, retaliate or discriminate against an employee for using sick time as long as it was taken for a legitimate reason and was used in accordance with company policy and applicable laws. Retaliation, for example, can take many forms, such as demotion, reduction in hours or pay, termination, or other adverse employment actions. If you believe that your employer has retaliated against you for using sick time, you may have legal recourse.

Try to resolve the issue informally, such as by speaking to your supervisor, but if you feel uncomfortable doing so, follow your company’s complaint process. If nothing changes despite your complaints, you may need to consult an Orange County employment law attorney. They can advise you on your legal options and help you file a legal complaint with the appropriate government agency. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is responsible for enforcing California’s employment laws, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal employment laws.