The company I work for has a policy in effect where an employee who misses three days of work in a week (or in a row) is required to supply a doctor's note/work excuse upon returning to work. The company also, incidentally, provides decidedly worse-than-normal health benefits with a substantial co-pay (United States), so the financial costs of obtaining this piece of paper are not insignificant. (In my case, it will be $50 - $135, depending on how much, if any, of the price the insurance company will pay.)

From my perspective, this seems like a legitimate use of the expense report. The company has forced me to incur a cost for their purposes, rather than allowing me to deal with the problem for $10 worth of liquids and acetaminophen. Having said that, I expect that they'll have a different point of view, and expect me to pay the full cost of getting the doctor's note/work excuse myself.

Not that it's a hardship for me, or even about the money, per se, but I am really curious (for future reference, mainly) about whether my position is a reasonable one or not.

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    Hopefully your next job will be with a company that supplies better-than-normal health benefits - and I suspect you'll need to start looking for that job sooner rather than later if you file this expense claim tomorrow. – Carson63000 Feb 6 '14 at 4:15
  • @Carson63000 You'd be surprised. I could show up falling-down-drunk tomorrow and still have my job on Friday. Well, probably. Not gonna test that theory, but I have absolutely no concerns about this being a CLM, or impacting my job security in any fashion, at this employer, but am curious for future reference, as to whether this might be a faux-pas or seen as a dick move at a job I care about keeping. – HopelessN00b Feb 6 '14 at 4:21
  • Well, if your workplace is that easy-going, why not just not get a doctor's note? Seems that would be easier to defend than putting in an expense claim that could be deemed mischievous at best, and fraudulent at worst. – Carson63000 Feb 6 '14 at 4:31
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    @Carson63000 Honestly? It seemed like getting the Dr.'s note would be slightly less of a hassle than deflecting or delaying inquiries about where my Dr,'s note was, until it slipped their mind for good. Soooo... path-of-slightly-less-resistance, I guess. – HopelessN00b Feb 6 '14 at 4:34
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    @Carson63000 Then they'd say ~ "well, you need to get one, so go out and get it now, and come back quick because, by the way, those projects you're lead on are top priority, so don't let those slip." It's a really bizarre environment where they make the biggest deal out of the things that don't matter, but won't even think twice about replacing the whole infrastructure or dropping a quarter mil on consultants that get here and don't have a thing to do. So, getting the note was the path of least resistance. (And please, feel free to put your PoV in an answer. I want the other PoV as well.) – HopelessN00b Feb 6 '14 at 6:15

I've actually worked at a place that had a policy like this and yes, it was generally OK to expense the cost of the note. It's a business expense, not a medical expense, because it's purpose is business - i.e. it's there to satisfy your employer, not to make you well. (The company only required notes for absences of 6 days or more, so it was pretty rare).

Having said that, company policies will differ, and they may or may not decide to pay. If they decide not to pay there isn't going to be much you can do about it. Also, as usual, the easy way to find out if your company will pay this is to ask them.

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    The cost of a note is not the same as the cost of a doctor's visit. Anyway, this is in Canada so the cost of a doctor visit was zero. The cost of a doctor's note if you otherwise didn't need a visit was not zero. – DJClayworth Feb 6 '14 at 14:45
  • Not sure. A few tens of dollars. – DJClayworth Feb 6 '14 at 17:15
  • Wow, that's odd. At my doctor, the cost of getting a doctor's note was tied into the co-pay of seeing the doctor in the first place. I've never heard of someone being charged just for the note. Then again, if the visit is free, I guess I can see why maybe they'd want to discourage people from visiting and getting notes to skip out of work on a regular basis? – Adam V Feb 6 '14 at 19:09
  • It may be meaningful to mention that in Canada, because of universal healthcare, doctor's rates are fixed and a lot of doctors try to augment their incomes by charging for things like doctor's notes or copies of test results. Since doctor's notes are always a formality, it makes sense to expense them. But this whole thing might be localized only to Canada. – MrFox Feb 6 '14 at 19:20
  • In Canada healthcare (i.e. making you well) is funded by taxes. The cost if telling your employer that you were sick (which contributes nothing to making you well) is not funded by taxes. If your employer wants proof that you were sick, the employer is expected to pay for it. It's that, rather than doctors padding their fees, that means there is a charge. – DJClayworth Mar 12 '16 at 17:46

What is legitimate or not is decided by the guidelines and rules that correspond to the conditions of the contract you signed. In the future, you have two choices: you can negotiate the contract, or you can try to get your manager to massage the system for you.

Contract Conditions

My previous job required me to wear a suit. Suits are generally not washer friendly. So I had to blow a fair bit of money each week on dry cleaning. I didn't expense report them. The company's stance was that dry cleaning, despite being required for maintaining my professional appearance for work, was my responsibility, and that I was paid enough to afford dry cleaning (I was).

Things like dress code, or conditions for sick leave (or bereavement leave, etc.) are generally laid out in the company regulations. If there is something you care greatly about, then you should bring it up early during the negotiations, otherwise you are tacitly agreeing to abide by the company rules (your contract probably explicitly says you have to do as told as well).

The absence of any restriction from filing an expense report for this does not mean that it is appropriate to do in the same way it wouldn't have been appropriate for me to expense my dry cleaning.


Now you can negotiate these things. If you absolutely must have a single can of Mountain Dew each morning on the company dime, you can request it be written in as a perk to your contract. Or you can accept an extra dollar a day in net pay to fuel your atomic green artificial coloring habit instead and have the same effect. Generally speaking people negotiate the real sticking points and ignore little stuff (like reimbursement for doctor's notes) for two reasons:

  1. There is no such thing as a perfect employment contract
  2. Requesting too much will likely hurt your pay and/or employment chances

Contracts are a balance where neither side gets everything they want, but hopefully both parties are satisfied enough with what they get that they are willing to compromise around the edges on both sides to maintain a healthy relationship.

The Easiest Way Out

Given that contracts are not perfect, and we all have our little pet issues that drive us nuts, most of us will come to an understanding with our manager. Perhaps the policy is no personal calls while at work, but your boss turns a blind eye to the call you get from your school when your child has a fever. And perhaps there is no flex time and the hours are 9-5, but because your child has a fever he allows you to leave early because you generally come in 15 minutes early, and it's just the right thing to do.

While your company may require a note to prove you are sick, you could always negotiate with your manager to see if (s)he's willing to turn a blind eye this time:

"Hey boss, I've got the flu and will be staying home today. To head to the doctor would be tough in my condition, and set me back $130. Is there any chance we could skip over that requirement this time?"

Your boss probably doesn't control your health plan, but (s)he probably has the ability to wave the requirement for the note. Being direct and honest about what you need at worst will get you a no, but it'll be a much easier path than trying to expense those costs (which will probably have to go through your boss and make it less likely to receive such favors in the future).

  • Thanks for the other PoV. I probably should have added that my manager specifically reminded me of the policy on day 2, and thus, waiving the requirement was pretty clearly not an option in my particular instance. – HopelessN00b Feb 6 '14 at 6:33
  • @Hopeless, yep. You should have asked on day one, or suck it up this time and ask if you can wave that in the future. – jmac Feb 6 '14 at 6:43
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    @HopelessN00b I'd say "I've just found out that getting a doctor's note will be $X. Will you reimburse me for this or do you no longer require me to get one?" – starsplusplus Feb 6 '14 at 12:10
  • @starsplusplus Yeah... that would have been the thing to do before I went out and paid for the visit. D'oh! – HopelessN00b Feb 6 '14 at 12:12

I would look at it this way:

  1. You were not sick enough that you needed to go to the doctor for your illness.
  2. The company chooses to enforce a policy that requires you to go see a doctor for a spurious reason.
  3. The company chooses what level of health cover it will provide for its employees.

So you are incurring this expense solely due to a requirement of the company. If the company wants to avoid it, they could waive the note requirement at any time; they choose not to. The company could reduce the burden placed on employees by providing a better health plan (and in doing so would, in essence, be paying for employees to get these notes); they choose not to. On that basis, I think you're justified in expensing it. File the claim under "reasons why you should provide a better healthcare plan for employees".

Of course, if you had been sick enough to go to the doctor for your illness, and had decided that as part of the same visit you would get the note at the same time, then you wouldn't be justified in claiming the expense. Or at least, that would be more of a gray area. Kind of like driving 10 miles for work-related things, filling up your entire tank, and then expensing the complete fuel bill.

And in any case, just because something may be logically justified (you incurred an expense due to a workplace directive; you are entitled to have it reimbursed) it doesn't mean that it won't be perceived as a "dick move". That really depends more upon personalities and your organization's culture than anything else.

As for whether it's generally appropriate to expense the cost of getting a doctor's note, I can't really comment. I've never worked in an organization that both 1) stated a requirement for doctor's notes and 2) actually enforced it. At companies which did have a stated requirement for a doctor's note, I'd say what generally happened is that everyone just ignored it. I certainly did.

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    Wouldn't the fact that you were not sick enough that you needed to go to the doctor for your illness lead to a possible riposte that perhaps you weren't sick enough to miss three days of work? – Carson63000 Feb 6 '14 at 6:05
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    @Carson63000 - Perhaps, but only if the employer doesn't understand the devastating effect relatively minor but highly communicable illness can have upon productivity in a shared work environment. Most people won't go to the doctor for a cold or a flu. But it's a very bad idea to have people going into work with those illnesses; they're less effective, and they infect everyone they come into contact with. – aroth Feb 6 '14 at 6:08
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    @Carson63000 It's the flu. It's not like there's anything a doctor can do for me that I can't pick up cheaper at the corner pharmacy. (And for what it's worth, we are instructed to take sick days when we're sick, so we don't infect the rest of the office... not that I would have done much good oozing mucus all over my desk and running a fever of 102.) And aroth, thanks for your post. It seems to line up with my previous experiences, and articulate my thoughts and PoV on the matter. – HopelessN00b Feb 6 '14 at 6:10
  • I was totally following-along with this answer, nodding my head until I saw: "On that basis, I think you're justified in expensing it." If the company is choosing not to offer a better health plan to cover it, or to waive the note requirement, the correct response is to negotiate those points, not file a bogus expense report in protest, no? I can't imagine that being a call that is going to either get you back the money, or prevent you from shelling out the same cash the next time you get the flu. – jmac Feb 6 '14 at 6:29
  • @jmac - What other conclusion might I have offered from the preceding points? The OP is incurring an expense solely due to a company directive. That generally implies entitlement to reimbursement and that it's at least not unreasonable to file a claim. It doesn't need to be done as an act of protest (and the claim certainly isn't "bogus"), and I don't advocate doing it as such. The employer will review the claim, and accept or deny it. And if they deny it, that can segue into further talks. Negotiations are all well and good, but they're unlikely to provide the OP any immediate help. – aroth Feb 6 '14 at 6:38

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