Medical information in the workplace is a matter of privacy, but it’s also about the rights of employers to necessary information and the responsibility of both employees and employers in accommodating needs. How much medical information is an employer entitled to?
There is quite a bit of legislation in Alberta around this issue, including the:
- Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP)
- Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA)
- Health Information Act (HIA)
These laws address employee rights to privacy, and the collection, use, and disclosure of personal and health information. In Alberta, employee rights to privacy are balanced against employers’ legitimate business interests.
What Information May An Employer Request From An Employee On Medical Leave?
While the Government of Alberta acknowledges that an employee’s personal medical information is private and must be kept confidential, it also understands that an employer needs adequate information for valid reasons.
An employer needs a certain amount of information to know that an employee is able to continue work or return to work after a medical leave. Information is also required for an employer to provide appropriate accommodation to ensure employee safety.
The law entitles employers to only the minimum information necessary to fulfill their duties and responsibilities as an employer. This information depends on the situation and may include information about diagnoses and treatment.
When an employee is returning to work after a medical leave, the employer may request written confirmation from the employee’s doctor that the employee is fit to return to work. This confirmation should include any restrictions or limitations the employer needs to know about to provide accommodation in the workplace.
Information an employer may require to determine appropriate accommodation includes:
- The prognosis of recovery;
- The expected length of the absence or disability (temporary or permanent);
- What restrictions and limitations an employee has; and
- Whether a treatment or medication the employee is taking will affect the employee’s ability to perform job duties.
The type and amount of information an employer requires will depend on the situation.
What Information Is An Employer Not Entitled To?
An employer does not have a right to all medical information in every situation, especially to any diagnosis beyond what’s necessary to make decisions about accommodation, providing disability leave, or assessing if an employee is fit to work. For example, an employer is not entitled to an employee’s medical history. They have a right only to information that’s relevant to the time period of the medical absence.
An employer does not have a right to contact an employee’s doctor without the employee’s consent.
Requesting an Independent Medical Assessment or Independent Psychological Assessment is not an employer’s right until all other less intrusive means of obtaining necessary information have been exhausted.
How Should An Employer Request Additional Medical Information From An Employee On Medical Leave?
When an employee requests medical leave, they should provide the employer with proof of disability or illness. If after thorough review the employer finds the information insufficient, they may request further details.
Before requesting additional information, an employer should determine why the additional information is necessary. The requested information should relate to the operation of the workplace and the job duties of the employee, and it should be relevant to the time period of the employee’s medical leave.
Typically, the lawyers at Getz Collins and Associates recommend that employers provide the employee with a medical ability-to-work form (to be filled out by the employee’s doctor) accompanied by a written job description and an explanation of the reason the additional information is requested.
3 Practical Considerations for Employers Before Requesting Additional Medical Information
Before requesting additional medical information from an employee, employers should consider the following:
- For how long is the employee expected to be absent from work?
- What information has already been provided?
- Is it possible to accommodate the employee in a way that’s minimally disruptive without requesting additional medical information?
Employers should also have policies and procedures in place that protect the private medical information shared by employees.
Do you still have questions about medical information in the workplace? The employment law lawyers at Getz Collins and Associates can evaluate your situation and advise both employees and employers. Contact us today.