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December 1997
Vol.1 No. 3 Page 8

Calling In Sick

What proof is needed or can be required

ED NOTE: This is the second part of a two-part article dealing with medical certification. Some how this has become timely in a way. Recently a letter carrier complained through Postal Talk about management requiring him to go to the doctor upon calling in sick for the first time since 1989. Naturally the carrier was offended, but the general rule of thumb we preach to you here is always follow management's instructions then grieve the instruction. We also apologize for the length of some of these articles. The "experts" say that what we are doing by running such lengthy articles is not "political correct" when it applies to the rules of Web Site building. Our goal is to provide you with as much information as possible.
WHAT CONSTITUTES PROPER DOCUMENTATION?

Section 513.364 of the Employee and Labor Relations Manual reads as follows:

When employees are required to submit medical documentation pursuant to these regulations, such documentation should be furnished by the employee's attending physician or other attending practitioner. Such documentation should provide an explanation of the employee's illness or injury sufficient to indicate to management that the employee was (or will be) unable to perform his normal duties for the period of absence. Normally, medical statements such as "under my care" or "received treatment" are not acceptable evidence of incapacitation to perform duties. Supervisors may accept proof other than medical documentation if they believe it supports approval of the sick leave application.

Until such time as acceptable evidence substantiating an employee's illness is presented, management may refuse to approve the requested sick leave.

However pursuant to national level settlement M-00001, a physician's certification of illness need not appear on a form 3971: "appropriate medical statements written on a doctor's office memoranda or stationary which are signed by the doctor are considered to be acceptable medical certification." Indeed, provided the requirements of the ELM are satisfied, such certification may be presented on preprinted forms.

Statements from lay persons are not acceptable as medical documentation (See C-00102; grievant returned with a note from her husband and this was deemed unacceptable by the supervisor.) In M-00803, however, the parties agreed that less traditional medical practitioners, naturopaths, were "attending practitioners," within the meaning of ELM 513.364

In M-00703 it was agreed that management is not precluded from contacting an employee's physician in order to clarify matters pertinent to the medical certification. (See also M-00557, noting that such a management practice is "prudent" when an employee's certification lacks "specificity")

REMEDIES

Once it has been concluded by the arbitrator that the supervisor has violated Part 513.361 of the Employee and Labor Relations Manual by arbitrarily, capriciously or unreasonably requiring medical documentation of employee who requested sick leave, a remedy is due.

1) REIMBURSEMENT FOR MEDICAL DOCUMENTATION

The remedy most frequently granted to the employee who was improperly required to obtain medical documentation is reimbursement for the cost of the medical documentation. As the arbitrator in C-01624 pointed out. "Where a gross error is made by the supervisor and the effects of the error falls upon an employee who is not on Restricted Sick Leave and who has not taken advantage of a very substantial sick bank, since his sick leave payments have been negligible, the Employer ought to bear the responsibility of paying the cost of a medical documentation which the grievant has been directed to procure."

An exception to the generally accepted remedy of reimbursement for the cost of the documentation is found where the employee was reimbursed by the employee's medical insurance. In C-00417 the arbitrator reasoned, Next Column

"the Arbitrator does have power and jurisdiction to fashion an appropriate remedy, which is in this type of case, reimbursement.

However, it is elementary that there cannot and should not be double recovery. No employee should be able to seek payment by the Employer after having already received payment through an insurance carrier. The aim and purpose of the remedy is to make the employee whole, not to enrich the employee or penalize the employer."

2) REIMBURSEMENT FOR MEDICAL TREATMENT

The pre-arbitration decision M-00989 established that an arbitrator has the authority to grant relief in the form of the Postal Service paying for doctor's bill when it is found that supervisory personnel did not have reasonable and sufficient grounds to require medical verification from an employee for absences of 3 days or less.

Upon finding that an employee was improperly required to obtain certification, most arbitrators have ruled that the employee is entitled to be reimbursed for the cost of the medical examination. However, arbitrators have consistently ruled against reimbursement for medical treatment. In C-00008 the grievant was denied reimbursement for the cost of a tetanus shot he received. The arbitrator concluded that the grievant would have gone to a doctor to receive a tetanus shot regardless of the medical documentation requirement. Requests for reimbursement for the cost of a prescription were denied in C-03032 ("Proof of filling the prescription was not required to meet the Employer's medical verification and therefor the Grievant elected to fulfill this prescription and take the medication at his own risk") and C-04033 ("the purchase was a personal choice and benefit which grievant may not charge to the Postal Service"). In C-03860 the grievant was compensated for the cost of a "brief office visit" yet denied reimbursement for an electrocardiogram, urinalysis, accusan, and chest x-ray. The arbitrator pointed out, "all the supervisor required was certification of incapacity to work, not a series of expensive testing procedures."

3) REIMBURSEMENT FOR TIME SPENT TRAVELING TO AND FROM THE DOCTOR'S OFFICE AND REIMBURSEMENT FOR TRANSPORTATION COSTS.

In addition to being reimbursed for the cost of the medical documentation, some arbitrators have ruled that the employee is entitled to reimbursement for the time it took to travel to and from the doctor's office (see C-00067 and C-00418), and transportation costs related to the doctor's visit. However, reimbursement for travel expenses and time spent traveling to and from the doctor's office was located approximately two miles from the Grievant's home and that it was not particularly off the course of travel between the Post Office and the Grievant's home. Therefore, the Grievant is not entitled to any compensation for mileage or time spent in connection with the visit to the doctor's office." The arbitrator in C-00451 stated, "The claim for $10, for the one hours time that the grievant spent in the doctor's office, is denied. So is the request for $.40 mileage charge for use of the grievant's car going to and from the doctor's office. Both of these items would have been utilized by the grievant if he had gone to work instead of remaining home on December 23, 1982. His savings in not going to work recompensed him for these requested charges so he suffered no loss and required to reimbursement."

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