Do You Need a Doctor’s Note for COVID in California?

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The COVID-19 pandemic is still raging across the U.S., and California has been particularly hard-hit. If you live in California, you need to know how the state’s sick leave regulations apply to quarantine and sick leave for COVID-19 diagnosis and disability accommodations in the workplace.

Do you need a doctor’s note to take sick leave for COVID-19? What about a negative test to be cleared for work? Is COVID-19 considered a disability? What about an underlying condition that could increase your risk of complications? Here are the answers.

No, You Don’t Need a Doctor’s Note for COVID-19 in California

Under California law, employees are entitled to three days of sick leave per year. California’s current sick leave laws allow employees to give verbal notice of sick leave, which has been interpreted by the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) to mean that requiring a doctor’s note could interfere with an employee’s statutory right to the three days of leave.

Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has happened, employment attorneys are advising employers not to require doctor’s notes for COVID-19-related sick leave. This is to help employers avoid running afoul of California’s state sick leave laws, as well as to help prevent the spread of the virus. About 20 percent of the COVID-19-related employment lawsuits working their way through the courts nationwide are in California. This means employers have become wary about requiring doctor’s notes for COVID-19 sick leave since it could lead to a lawsuit.

Furthermore, the CDC recommends that employers avoid requiring doctor’s notes because doing so could promote the spread of the illness. It requires sick employees to leave their homes and visit the doctor, even when they don’t really need medical attention, and that could needlessly expose countless people and put countless lives at risk if the employee turns out to be positive for COVID-19. Plus, many employees may not be able to afford to visit a doctor just to get a doctor’s note for work.

No, You Don’t Need a Negative COVID-19 Test to Return to Work in California

California has recently passed new standards prohibiting employers from requiring a negative COVID-19 test to allow employees to return to work. Instead, they must require employees who test positive but don’t show symptoms to stay home for at least 10 days. Employees who test positive and show symptoms must be required to stay home until:

  • They have been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing drugs;
  • Their symptoms have improved; and
  • It has been at least 10 days since their first symptoms appeared.

Employers are required to keep paying your wages and giving you your benefits during your quarantine period if you test positive for COVID-19.

COVID-19 Could Be Considered a Disability in California

It remains unclear whether COVID-19 itself can be considered a disability requiring employer accommodations in California. Most cases of COVID-19 clear up in a few weeks, leaving no ill effects. Some people struggle with the illness for weeks or months, however, and those with serious complications can end up hospitalized for a period sufficient to require short-term disability benefits. If permanent damage is caused, the disability could become long-term.

Most likely, employers will not be required to treat every case of COVID-19 as a disability, but to approach it on a case-by-case basis. Under this model, COVID-19 would be treated as a disability only when it interferes with a major life activity. While it’s not yet clear whether employees can claim short-term disability from the state of California, employers are being counseled to give the State Disability Insurance (SDI) pamphlet to anyone who is quarantined with COVID-19.

Furthermore, underlying conditions that could raise the risk of serious COVID-19 complications might be considered a disability requiring reasonable accommodation under the law. Anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses, like depression, might also fall under this category, as the added stress of the pandemic could cause these conditions to interfere with a major life activity.

If you live in California and you get COVID-19, you shouldn’t have to provide a doctor’s note to get sick leave. You’re entitled to continue receiving your pay while quarantined, and you may be entitled to disability insurance if your symptoms don’t clear up in the most common time frame.