Can a Doctor Refuse to give you a sick note? (A guide)

In this brief guide, we will look at the questions “Can a doctor refuse to give you a sick note?” and some other related subjects like can a doctor give you a sick note for anxiety or depression.

Can a Doctor Refuse to give you a sick note?

No, a doctor cannot refuse to give you a sick note when you are sick and seeking some respite from work as a result, and they will usually give the sick note after they have assessed the condition and advised you about treatment.

A doctor may refuse to give a sick note in cases where the person is obviously malingering or there is nothing wrong with them, and they may not want to enable any avoidant behavior, but usually in those cases as well they will refer the person to the appropriate professional who can help them.

A doctor typically has no reason to refuse to give a sick note, as it does not take anything away from their practice, and they usually want to help their patients get better sooner, and if taking time off work will help them do that the doctor will aid them in this effort.

While a doctor will not refuse to give you a sick note, they can insist on you seeking treatment for whatever condition you are suffering from and the employer may also inquire about the same at a later date, so you should certainly do that.

Another thing to remember is that sick notes are called fit notes now, or statements of fitness, and the Department of Work and Pensions says about fit notes:

“Your doctor will only give you a fit note if your health affects your fitness for work. The fit note is your property and you should keep it– your employer can take a copy if they want one for their records.”

You don’t always need to be fully recovered to go back to work, and in fact it can often help your recovery.

Another thing to know is that a fit note can help you go back to work when you’re able to and the doctor will not automatically assess whether you are fit for work in your current health condition. 

The doctor may also want to explore how your current condition affects what you can do at work and they may want to talk about your fitness for work in general rather than just your current job, to assess how well you may be able to bounce back from the condition. 

The other thing you can ask your doctor to do when writing you a fit note, or something they may probably do on their own, is give advice in the fit note about what you can do at work, rather than simply record your health condition. 

The doctor’s advice from the sick note may then be discussed with the employer, and the possibility of changes to help you return to work may be explored. 

Can a Doctor refuse to give you a sick note for Depression?

Legally, a doctor cannot refuse to give you a sick note for depression as it is a recognized and significant illness that can severely hamper the ability of the individual to do their job.

The doctor will likely want to make an assessment of the depressive state to see how severe it is and include that in the sick note.

Depending on how long the sick note is for the doctor may also ask questions about the nature of your job or discuss possibilities of going back to work when you start to feel better.

A doctor may also give a sick note for depression and outline possible treatment plans in it so that your employer may also take note of what you are doing about the situation rather than just knowing that you are sick.

Can a Doctor refuse to give you a sick note for Anxiety?

No, like with depression, a doctor cannot refuse to give you a sick note for anxiety if you have anxiety, and if you are experiencing anxiety severe enough that it gets in the way of your capability to do your job, the doctor will give you a sick note.

A sick note for anxiety or depression or any other illness does not have to be for leave alone, they can be for taking a work from home option, some time off, reduction of duties or changes in how the job is performed in general.

The types of leaves that one can take also differ from situation to situation, and the person may take a long term or short term leave that is paid or unpaid, or they may take a sabbatical.

Consider this case example given by the DWP regarding sick notes for anxiety or anxiety related disorders:

“A supermarket worker visits her doctor complaining of panic attacks. She is diagnosed with anxiety disorder and says she’s too distressed to work. Your patient says she is too distressed to work. 

She works on the Customer Service Desk dealing with complaints and returns from customers. This sometimes leads to confrontational encounters with difficult customers. She thinks the job is causing her panic attacks and does not see how she can go back to work. 

She and her doctor agree that certain tasks may be contributing to her condition and that, and she should avoid these for now. They decide that there are still things that she can do – for–example, physical tasks or back-office duties. 

This helps her feel more positive. The GP issues a two-week fit note but also explains that as she might be absent from work for four weeks or more, she may benefit from a referral to Fit for Work for an occupational health assessment. She agrees to this.

An occupational health professional from Fit for Work contacts her by telephone within two days. During the conversation, it is established that she wants to return to work as soon as possible, and her health professional discusses with her possible adjustments that could be made at work to allow her to return. 

The OH professional and employee jointly agree to a Return to Work Plan which she is happy to be shared with her GP and employer. 

The Return to Work Plan recommends she has a phased return to work starting with just a few hours a day as well as other workplace adjustments which include not having to deal with customers during busy periods.

For the next four weeks, the employer arranges for her to do quieter shifts or work away from the shop floor. 

By keeping in touch with her employer while she was off, she did not feel too ‘out of the picture’, and by returning to work she has helped safeguard her longer-term mental and physical health. 

Following a recommendation in her Return to Work Plan, her employer also arranges for your patient to attend a course which teaches coping techniques. This is intended to help her become more confident when dealing with the public.

 After four weeks the employee informs her Fit for Work case manager that she feels more confident about dealing with the public and says she would like to return to normal duties. Her employer agrees to this. 

The Fit for Work case manager lets her GP know that she has returned to full duties at work.”

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we looked at the questions “Can a doctor refuse to give you a sick note?” and some other related subjects like can a doctor give you a sick note for anxiety or Depression.

Getting a doctor’s note is not that hard and is recommended when you are suffering from a physical or mental illness and need to take a leave that may not be allowed otherwise, or when you want to take time off work for too long.

If you want to take an unpaid leave or a sabbatical due to sickness or other problems like severe stress, you can get a doctor’s note and submit that along with details of any tests you have had and an official letter that defines the parameters of your leave and problems.

If you have any questions or comments similar to Can a doctor refuse to give you a sick note?”, please feel free to reach out to us at any time.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Can a Doctor Refuse to give you a sick note?

Can a doctor refuse to give you a sick note for anxiety?

No, usually a patient will not refuse to give you a sick note for anxiety, as both law and medicine acknowledge the disruptive capability of anxiety, especially when it comes to work conditions.

A doctor may give the sick note after they have assessed you however, and they will want to make sure that you are not malingering or just trying to avoid work.

A doctor may also insist on you seeking treatment if you are getting a sick note for anxiety, and the employer might also need proof of treatment at a later point.

How long can a GP give a sick note for?

A GP can usually give a sick note for 7 days or less, and they might amend it to more days if the person is sicker than they originally thought or is not recovering as well as they should have been.

For an absence that spans longer than 7 days, an employer may usually ask for a fit note, which is also known as a Statement of Fitness for Work, and this may be provided by a GP or hospital doctor. 

What happens if I can’t get a sick note?

Two things may happen if you can’t get a sick note, one may be that your employer may be entitled to withhold either contractual sick pay or statutory sick pay (SSP), or, if the employee is gone for too long without a sick note and no updates on the conditions, some contracts may enable the employer to fill their position.

According to most laws, employers require reasonable information to determine if the employee is entitled to SSP, which is what the sick note is usually for.

Can a doctor back date a sick note?

Yes, a doctor may back date a sick note so you do not need to be seen urgently or on the day that your sick note expires. 

Usually, in cases where a sick note is being backdated, it can be issued at a later date and backdated, at the doctor’s discretion and their assessment of why you need the sick note backdated.

A sick note may also be extended without you being seen again in case your condition requires this amendment.

Will a doctor sign you off for stress?

Yes, a doctor will sign you off for stress, especially if you are suffering from a significant level of stress which could be reduced if you took time off work.

Even if a doctor signs you off for stress, however, remember that the employer is not obliged, to leave your job available for you indefinitely.

Citations

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/464395/fit-note-patients-employees-guidance-sept-2015.pdf

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/the-real-sickness-of-medical-notes/article35350781/

Divya is currently a Clinical Psychology Trainee in a Master of Philosophy program and holds a Master’s in clinical psychology. She has a special interest in Personality studies and disorders, having researched the subject before, and Neuropsychology; with an additional interest being Mood disorders. She likes to write about Psychiatric issues, having worked in multiple specialty setups during her time as a clinical psychology student, and in her free time she likes to cook and read.

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