Return To Work Doctors Note

Returning to work after an extended absence can be nerve-racking and even traumatic for many people, especially if they are unsure about their ability to do the job. Whether it is a physical job or one that introduces a lot of stress, even though it is a desk job can be difficult for many employees. Can you provide the effort your colleagues need so they know you can be depended on? How will your boss react to any restrictions you may have, and what is the impact on your salary?

Providing a return-to-work doctor’s note can help clarify the situation for yourself, your colleagues, and your boss. The doctor’s opinion about when you should return and whether there are any restrictions can have a significant impact on a successful return to your job. This post describes what a return to work doctor’s note is and what should be included and addresses several frequently asked questions many readers may have.

What Is a Return-to-Work Doctor’s Note?

A return to work doctor’s note describes the conditions for your return to work. In the doctor’s opinion, they indicate when you should return to your job or if you should remain off the job and indicates if there are any restrictions with regards to doing your job. Depending on the reason you were absent from your position, the doctor might suggest you return on a part-time basis for several weeks or limit yourself to non-physical activities to avoid further injuries or illness.

When Should You Get a Return to Work Doctor’s Note?

A return to work doctor’s note may be required at various times during the employee’s recovery from illness or a work-related injury. The employer may request an update from the employee to help the employer understand the employee’s situation, plan the company’s staffing levels, and how long they need to temporarily fill the employee’s position.

When the employee returns to work, there may be restrictions in terms of what the employee can physically accomplish. Returning part-time, avoiding lifting, or strenuous activities are several examples of restrictions that may be required to ensure the employee returns to full health. The type of restrictions indicated depends on the type of job and the employee’s condition.

The employee may not be able to return to work at present, and the return to work doctor’s note provides an update to the employer indicating the status, the next evaluation date, and any follow-up plan for treatment.

Essential Elements of a Return to Work Doctor’s Note

The return to work doctor’s note is filled out by a medical worker, either the doctor or a specialist caring for the employee. There are essential items of information that must be included in every return to work note. They are as follows:

  • Name and Status: full name, identification number, date of onset of the illness or injury, and a description of the illness or injury, surgery, or other treatment options.
  • Work Status: include the employee’s return to work status along with the appropriate date. Choices include returning to regular work, returning to work with restrictions, further evaluation required before returning to work, or the employee being referred to another health care specialist/provider.
  • Lifting Restrictions: this is particularly important for employees with a physical job; however, it applies to all patients. The doctor must indicate any restriction the employee has concerning lifting boxes or materials. Restrictions range from none to 50 pounds.
  • Treatment Plan: the next assessment date must be indicated, and any specialized treatment that may be necessary for the comments section.
  • Medical Identification: the medical doctor’s name, date, phone number, and address must be included. The doctor or specialist must sign the return to work doctor’s note to make it official.


The following are several frequently asked questions our readers may have concerning a return to work doctor’s note.

Why do you need a doctor’s note to return to work?

Returning to work too soon can cause the employee further health-related issues causing the employee to be off work for longer periods than originally planned, in addition to potentially causing long-term health issues. A return to work doctor’s note tells the employee and employer that it is safe for the employee to return to work with or without restrictions.
A return to work note is also an official document that triggers a return to regular salary. If sickness benefits are part of the employee’s compensation, the employee will be transferred from sickness benefits to a regular salary.

Can an employer require a doctor’s note to return to work?

In most states, the employer has a right to request a return to work note which indicates the status of the employee from a health perspective, the current treatment plan, and an expected return to work date. Your employer will want to understand when you can return and whether you can return full-time and be expected to be able to complete a normal day’s activity.

Can an employer refuse a return to work?

The circumstances of the employee’s absence, their health condition, restrictions, job requirements, and available work, along with state employment laws, must be considered before employers can refuse a return to work for an employee who has been on sick leave. The employer may be attempting to terminate the employee without cause. The employee may want to consider consulting an employment lawyer or their union agreement if they participate in a union contract.

What is a reasonable phased return to work?

A reasonable phased return to work is dependent on several factors and is best determined in conjunction with medical professional recommendations and your employer. Factors impacting the assessment and subsequent return to work plan include:
Job requirements
Employee’s physical and mental health
Medical professional’s evaluation and recommendations
Contract details covering return-to-work guidelines

Key Points

A return to work doctor’s note confirms your return to work or extends your absence from work pending ongoing testing and recuperation from an illness or injury. The note is required to satisfy your employer regarding your ability to return to work and continue with whatever benefits you may be entitled to.

The doctor’s note also helps the employer plan staffing levels and temporary help they may have to arrange while you are absent from the job. If you can return to work, the doctor’s note also specifies any restrictions you may have about returning to active employment. e.g., full or part-time and whether you can lift packages of a specific weight. If your doctor indicates a part-time return, the note can also indicate how long the part-time return should last before returning full-time.

A doctor’s return to work note may also be required to satisfy contract conditions negotiated with your employer through an association or union contract. Your employer can also request an update on your status if you have been away for an extended time.

There are many different situations and conditions that will determine the best approach to returning to work, either full-time or part-time, on a phased basis. The employee’s current health condition, type of job, medical doctor’s opinion, and contract agreements must be factored into the decision about the best approach to return to work.