It is the duty of your employer to provide a safe and respectful work environment. But what happens if you are unable to work due to medical issues or require accommodations at your workplace?
The process can feel overwhelming, between requesting information from your medical professional, relaying relevant details to your employer, all while dealing with the disability or illness.
Employers in Canada have certain guidelines they need to follow when requesting medical information. This article will outline what employers are and are not allowed to request from you as an employee.
What medical information can your employer request?
The medical information an employer can request is going to vary from situation to situation. It will depend on the disability or illness that the employee suffers from.
For example, if someone misses work due to back pain, their employer might request a signed doctor’s note as proof. Or similarly, if someone misses work for depression, their employer might want a letter from their psychologist if the employee has no allotted mental health days left.
There are specific guidelines that all employers have to follow when requesting medical information from an employee.
For example, they can only require information pertinent to the situation and are not entitled to knowing the diagnosis or any other personal details outside of the disability or illness. Employers are also not allowed to tell anyone about the disability or illness other than staff members in charge of accommodating the employee.
As mentioned, the medical information required will depend on the specific illness or disability of the employee. Typically, the documentation provided is by a doctor, psychologist, physiotherapist, or other medical professional explaining the employee’s limitations and how it affects their job. These documents may even include suggestions for accommodations.
What if my employer wants further proof of my medical absence?
Once you have provided your employer with an initial proof of disability or illness, they are required to first review all of the information and see if they can make a decision based on what is already provided. However, suppose they thoroughly review the information and still require other details.
In that case, the employer should: inform the employee in writing as to why they need further information, specifically identify what additional information is being requested, remind the employee that details will be shared only on a need-to-know basis, and continue to be open to any concerns the employee might have about providing further information about their situation (Alberta Human Rights).
For example, an employer might not be satisfied with just a doctor’s note if an employee suffers from migraines that interfere with their work. In this case, the employer may also want to confirm the employee’s illness with an optometrist and get potential accommodation suggestions for the employee.
Accommodating this employee might mean allowing them to wear sunglasses, getting them to take shorter and more frequent breaks, or offering blue light glasses for when computers are being used.
Once again, there are certain things that the employer is not allowed to do when requesting further information. These things would include contacting the employee’s doctor, requesting information that is not related, telling someone who doesn’t need to know, or terminating the employee without making proper accommodation attempts.
If the employer still wants further information after all these steps, then they should try to get the information in the least intrusive way.
What does accommodation mean?
Your employer is required to make adjustments to the workplace for the employee with an illness or disability, but they are not required to fundamentally change the job to accommodate the employee.
For example, if a florist has allergies that interfere with their sense of smell, they can still prune and arrange bouquets; however, they might require assistance from another employee when it comes to determining the quality of fragrance. In this instance, the accommodation is as simple as another employee stepping in to help out.
However, if this same florist had lost their eyesight instead of their sense of smell, simple accommodations may not work. After the employer exhausts all accommodation options, they might have to decide to let the person go. Otherwise, they would have to fundamentally change the job to accommodate the person’s disability.
What are some examples of accommodation?
Depending on a person’s individual needs, examples of accommodation may include:
- allowing a flexible work schedule
- modifying job duties or policies
- making changes to the building/workstations
- providing specialized adaptation or assistive devices for computers
- providing alternative ways of communicating with the employee
- additional training
- allowing short-term and long-term disability leave
- job bundling and unbundling (OHRC).
These guidelines are in place to help keep your medical privacy protected, and so that employers cannot just fire an employee without exhausting all means of accommodation first.
The information that an employer can request will ultimately depend on the employee’s disability or illness but keep in mind they are not entitled to knowing the diagnosis, except in extreme cases.
Since each person’s illness or disability is unique, the agreed-upon accommodation must also be specifically suited to their situation and implemented by the employer.