An employer can require a doctor's note with a diagnosis if there is a good business reason for doing so. Are there written rules concerning breaks for smoking or eating concerning frequency and/or duration? If so, he is within his rights to expect you to follow the rules. After all, he needs waiters who are serving his customers.
Perception is the issue here, I suspect. He may not notice the smokers. Maybe they are outside the building or otherwise not within his range of vision as much as you are when you eat your snacks.
If there are no hard and fast rules about breaks and your employer has written you up for snacking, did you and he have a meeting of the minds? That is, did he tell you what it is about your snacking that makes him so upset? Is it the time(s) of day that you snack (e.g., busiest time at the restaurant)? Is it the amount of time you take to consume your snacks? Is it the kind of snacks that you bring to work (e.g., messy, malodorous, from a competitor's eatery)?
Understanding his point of view might help you figure out a way to minimize his frustration with you and work out a compromise. It sounds to me as though you have told him that you are hypoglycemic--which may be true. But you don't really know, as you have not been diagnosed.
Maybe you should try telling your employer that you cannot afford the clinical testing necessary to provide him with a diagnosis; but you do know from life experience that you need a snack every two hours in order to feel energetic and focused--similar to smokers needing a cigarette every two hours. Ask him if you take no longer than five minutes twice a shift at agreed-upon times to snack, can he accommodate that?
The bottom line is that--depending to some degree on your state's employment laws--if you are not effective in your job, you can be fired. Asking for a doctor's note to substantiate your illness is really giving you a chance to be allowed to break or bend the rules to some degree.
Question added to topic Human Resources • October 7, 2008
Can an employer require a doctor's note with a diagnosis on it?
I am a waiter in Texas and work at least a 6-hour shift at a time. My employer allows others to take frequent smoke breaks but harasses me every time I bring in a snack to eat when time allows. Other waiters have also been caught eating but nothing is said to them. I have been ordered to bring in a doctor's note stating that I am hypoglycemic. I get weak and shaky when I do not have a few snaccks in the day and this problem runs in my family. However, I do not have insurance and the blood tests for an exact diagnosis are expensive. My boss harasses me every day for the note and has even written me up for eating.
Penny is a seasoned human resources executive and consultant with over 25 years of diverse business experience in advising enterprise leaders on employment-related matters.