The longstanding practice of employers asking employees for a doctor’s note to verify absences could come to an end if the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) has its way.

Officials with the organization, representing a number of unions and employee organizations, call the process a waste of time and are asking the province to do away with sick notes for absences shorter than three days.

“In non-unionized workplaces, many employers are using sick notes,” explains AFL president Gil McGowan. “(It) is a disincentive for workers to do what they should be doing which is staying home and getting better.”

McGowan adds that the cost of a doctor’s note could dissuade some employees from taking necessary time away from the workplace.

Doctor Rohan Bissoondath of Preventous Health says sick note requests have become a daily occurrence at his clinic.

“From our side, it takes a few minutes but it takes up an appointment space and, for that patient, it’s challenging for them to find time to come in,” said Dr. Bissoondath.

“When it comes to coughs, colds, common things that people don’t need to be in front of the doctor for, the best thing for them is that they’re home, they’re out of harm’s way, and they’re not making anybody else sick.”

“The last thing you feel like doing when you’re miserable is getting dressed to come out and see people”

While patients are on the hook for the cost of the note, which are normally in the $20 to $50  range depending on the clinic , Alberta Health covers the office visit charge. Dr. Bissoondath says patients have often recovered before he puts pen to paper.

‘A lot of time when we see people for sick notes, the illness had preceded that and they’re already back to their health or almost back to health.”

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) argues that sick notes, even for short term illness, are valuable for employers.  

“Small businesses need to be able to verify that their employees are getting the treatment that they need if they’re sick of experiencing stress,” said Amber Ruddy, CFIB’s director of provincial affairs.  

Ruddy agrees that the provincial government should review its policies on sick days but for an entirely different reason.

“When you look at the public sector versus the private sector, people in the public sector seem to get sick more often, in fact, five days more per year than someone in the private sector,” “In the public sector, people treat it more like an entitlement where they’ve negotiated sick days, they can bank them, they can retire earlier, and that’s simply unfair.”

“I don’t think we should be treating sick days as some form of new benefit. Sick days should be there and taken when needed.”

Stats Canada shows Albertans took an average of 5.5 half sick days in 2015, the lowest provincial percentage in the country.