Town Allowed To Require Doctor’s Notes On Sick Days Adjoining Days Off

Town Allowed To Require Doctor’s Notes On Sick Days Adjoining Days Off

When the Town of Scituate, Rhode Island became convinced it had a sick leave abuse problem in its Police Department, it imposed a rule that officers desiring to use sick leave on workdays adjoining days off or the use of paid leave would be required to obtain doctor’s notes justifying the use of the leave. Local 502 of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, representing rank-and-file employees, challenged the Town’s order in arbitration.

An arbitrator upheld the Town’s new requirement. The Arbitrator was persuaded by the fact that while the contract contained some language on sick leave verification, the contract did “not preclude the Department from unilaterally establishing other circumstances under which such verification will be required.” Also, the Arbitrator was convinced that a sick leave abuse problem was really present in the Department, and noted a precipitous drop in the use of sick leave after the institution of the new policy.

Town of Scituate, Rhode Island, LAIG 6435 (Pearce, 2006).

NOTE: There are two questions curiously unanswered by the Arbitrator’s decision. First, new rules on sick leave verification are almost always held to be mandatory subjects for bargaining. There is no indication whether Local 502 demanded to bargain over the new rules and, if so, what the resolution of the bargaining was.

Second, the Town’s rules have serious Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) implications. The only two courts to address the issue have held that “blanket” doctor-note requirements such as that the Town imposed violate the privacy rights of employees under the ADA. Under the ADA, an employer can only obtain information about “the nature and extent” of an individual’s disability if it has a reason for doing so that is “job-related and consistent with business necessity,” tests that the courts have found blanket doctor-note requirements to fail. The Arbitrator’s opinion is silent on ADA issues.

This article appears in the March 2007 issue