When your employer catches you forging a doctor’s note to get out of work

I’m asking this question on behalf of my boyfriend, who is dealing with a complicated situation at work.

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In the beginning of June, he verbally discussed some taking time off in mid-July with his boss several times. He got confirmation that it would be fine, but nothing was in writing. His PTO time didn’t renew until July 1st, so he knew the request would be denied if he submitted the official request for time off before that date. He submitted a time off form on July 2nd for time off starting on July 9th. The official request as denied because there wasn’t two weeks notice. My boyfriend was upset about this because he had already purchased a flight to Cuba based on the verbal confirmation from his boss. There was no refund available for the travel arrangements available to him. I don’t think the job was aware he was traveling out of the country. Read this article too.

My boyfriend decided to tell his job that he was having a medical procedure done and that it was medically necessary for him to have those days off. He presented a fake doctor’s note and they agreed to let him take the time off. He goes to Cuba for a week, and upon his return, they request a note stating that he’s medically ok to come back to work. From what he told me, his boss and manager were both very skeptical of his story for a few of reasons, but they couldn’t prove anything initially.

They called a meeting with him and the HR department and asked if there was anything he wanted to tell them about the medical note, and he told them he had nothing to say regarding it. They brought up a few issues and asked him to address them. First, he didn’t mention a medical reason until after they denied his time off request. Second, they tried to reach him for quick questions about clients during the time off and couldn’t. Third, they called the medical office to verify his note, and the doctor denied even knowing he was a patient. My boyfriend was subsequently fired for falsifying documents on his second day back at work after the trip.

He claims that his HIPAA rights were violated because there is a law saying that the employer must have authorization from the employee before attempting to verify a medical note. I work in the medical field, and I told him that HIPAA doesn’t apply to him because at the end of the day, he actually isn’t a patient of the medical facility. I’m not sure if there is some other law applicable to employers and employees regarding medical notes, time off, etc.

For the record, I told him not to create a fake note and to just eat the financial loss on the travel arrangements, but he didn’t listen. In addition, he has been putting in hours towards a certification for his field and will lose three years worth of time if the employer doesn’t certify that he put that time in. He has contacted his lawyer, who advised him to apply for unemployment benefits, and that if the job denies them, he can then go to a hearing to try and claim that the employer was in error by reaching out to the medical provider without his authorization. I told him to just cut his losses and give up on going back to work there. At the most, he might be able to get his hours certificate back and negotiate what will be said to future employers seeking a reference.

What do you think, Alison and readers?

You are correct.

As far as I know, simply attempting to verify the authenticity of the note doesn’t violate any laws. (It’s possible that the doctor’s office erred in confirming that he wasn’t a patient there, but that’s on them — not on the employer.) He’s also raising the specter of HIPAA here, but as you correctly note, HIPAA would apply to the medical office but not to apply to his employer.

More importantly, though, why is he even going in that direction?

He forged a note, and he’s going on the attack? He got caught forging a medical document. The only reasonable course of action here is for him is to realize that he did something incredibly unethical and lacking in integrity, something that any employer would consider a no-brainer firing offense, and to slink off quietly and vow never to do anything like that again.

I’m sure you know this, but he’s making himself very unsympathetic here. Forging a doctor’s note isn’t smart or ethical, but fine, he messed up. But he’s making himself look so much worse by not accepting responsibility for the situation and by trying to push some of the blame on to others. This is his mess — he’s the one who really screwed up here. By not facing up to that, he’s coming across so much more terribly than he otherwise would. (Don’t get me wrong; forging the note was pretty bad and his employer didn’t have any choice but to fire him for it. But it could have been a momentary lapse in judgment. What he’s doing now says something much deeper about his character.)

From a practical standpoint, if he tries to go on the attack, it’s going to destroy any remaining good will that anyone at his company might have had for him. If his former employer was feeling willing to verify the hours for his certification and/or to negotiate a decent or at least neutral reference, they’re really unlikely to be willing to do that if he tries to turn this around as something they did wrong.

The best thing he can to is admit full responsibility and stop trying to accuse them of anything. He forged a note, he got caught, and the more he fights that, the worse he looks.

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