Against Doctor's Orders

Pregnant employee has been ordered to 2 weeks of bedrest. If she wanted to ignore doctor's orders and return to work, can she? At this point, I have no paperwork stating that she must be off work. It got me wondering 1) normally we don't require doctor certification for pregnancy, so do I need paperwork for this (I think yes)? 2) Are people "allowed" to disregard recommendations from their doctors regardless if we have FMLA paperwork or not? I can see both sides. As an employer we wouldn't want something to happen and be covered by worker's comp (would her going into preterm labor be covered by WC anyway??), but if you as the employee/patient don't agree with the doctor's opinion, shouldn't you have the right to do what you want with your body? I may be opening an opinionated can of worms, but apparently today is a day of questioning authority. :)


  • 8 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • Once I have documentation recommending any kind of medical leave, I require a release. No exceptions.
  • In this instance, I have no documentation. If the employee refuses to complete the paperwork and returns to work, would you allow her to stay?

    I'm not saying this is going to happen, it was simply an "inquiring minds want to know" kind of thing.
  • If you don't have any paperwork, how do you know the doctor said 2 weeks bedrest? How long was she off work? You may be in a position to require fit for duty paperwork before you can allow her to return to work if she told you or if she was gone 3 days or more.

    If she was only off a day or two and what you heard was a rumor you must handle things differently. If it was me, I would simply talk to the employee. I would tell her the rumor and ask if it was true (not asking for details). If she says yes, then you go back to the fit for duty requirement. If she says no then you must let it go. Either way, you need to be compassionate and still be professional so that her privacy is not invaded.

    Just my 2 cents.
  • She has been very forthcoming and open about the whole situation. I sent her the FMLA paperwork and will require a RTW certification if she wants to come back. I know her concern (other than having a premie, of course) is being able to stay home with the baby after she's born.

    Thanks for the feedback!
  • We've always insisted on documentation when an employee says their doctor has prescribed bed rest, and then a release when they are supposed to be allowed to come back. We've had a couple of people who have wanted to continue working after they've brought us a note from their doctor telling them not to work, and we've told them that we can't allow them to come back until we know for sure that the doctor has signed off on it. Doctors generally don't prescribe bed rest for no good reason.

    We were never worried about the whole worker's comp angle, it just seems to make sense that with a condition like pregnancy that can end up being delicate for a variety of reasons, we don't want to take any chances with our employees' health.

    When I started here 30 years ago, we actually required pregnant employees to obtain documentation from their doctor stating that it was okay for them to keep working past a certain point in their pregnancy, whether or not they were having any problems. I didn't work in HR at the time, but I've seen notes to that effect in several of our longtime employee's files.
  • I have a similar situation, new employee advises 2 weeks after employment that she has just discovered she is pregnant, so not eligible for FMLA. Ends up on 2 weeks bed rest with note from Dr., EE states she can return on limited duty part time, however we requested clearance from the dr. After one additional week of bedrest EE advised today that Dr. will fax over release to return to part time duty. Will not accept her back without note.
  • The easiest way to avoid problems with this is to have a return to work statement from her and all employees that return to work from FMLA.
  • We always ask for a doctor's certification for leave, pregnancy or medical. If the employee was told to be on bed rest, we don't allow her to work until we receive a release from the doctor. We in no way want to be responsible if the employee had complications.