November 18, 2022

The Art of the Doctor’s Note

We’ve all needed one at some point –– a doctor’s note explaining that we’re out for the count on some otherwise necessary aspect of work or school, at least temporarily. This may sound especially familiar to working moms who worked while they were pregnant and needed a doctor’s note explaining their need for more frequent bathroom breaks and opportunities to sit down. 

Now, Covid-19 has changed the nature of work as we know it. Many people are realizing that they don’t feel safe at work due to a disability, and need to modify their pre-pandemic job to accommodate this new reality. In this type of situation, what do you ask your doctor for? What does such a note need to include to help you successfully advocate for your rights?

Berke-Weiss Law recently attended a CLE webinar entitled, “Advocating for Workers Affected by COVID-19: Rights and Remedies under the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and Related Laws” hosted by the Legal Network for Gender Equity and the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund. In this program, we were reminded about an online tool maintained by Pregnant@work, an initiative of the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings Law School in San Francisco, that is designed to help pregnant women navigate asking their employer for a reasonable accommodation. 

However, this tool is also applicable to people whose disability –– which is defined broadly under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws –– may entitle them to a reasonable accommodation that would enable them to fulfill their job responsibilities during the pandemic without risking their health and safety. 

Using Pregnant@work’s online tool, scroll down to “Getting Help from your Healthcare Provider” and select your state from the dropdown menu. The New York guidelines are geared toward doctors and explain the important components of a doctor’s note that you plan to use to request a reasonable accommodation. It also includes sample doctor’s notes for employees both in and outside of New York City. 

The guidelines also suggest reasonable accommodations for certain pregnancy-related conditions. While not all of these are applicable to Covid-19, the EEOC has provided guidance on the availability of reasonable accommodations for individuals at higher risk from Covid-19, for people whose mental illnesses have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and more. 

The most obvious reasonable accommodation due to Covid-19 is continuing to telework even if your physical workplace has reopened. However, don’t be afraid to get creative. Other accommodations may include shift changes to nights and/or weekends when less people are at the workplace, moving your workstation to an enclosed space that is properly ventilated but not shared with other people, or subsidized non-public transportation such as a car, parking spot, or a bike-share membership. And remember that your employer does not have a duty to agree to whatever accommodation you propose. In general, they must engage in a dialogue with you and can ultimately offer an accommodation that is “reasonable” but different than your first preference. 

Written by Law Clerk Kacie Candela.

Berke-Weiss Law is still offering free, 15-minute legal consultations on issues related to Covid-19. We advise both employers and employees on their rights. Schedule a time to speak with one of our attorneys.

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