On February 1, 2017, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (the “Commission”) released a policy statement regarding its position on medical information to be provided when individuals request disability-related accommodations. The new policy statement is especially topical for employers, who have a statutory duty under Ontario’s Human Rights Code to accommodate employees with respect to disability to the point of undue hardship.
The policy statement refers to the Commission’s 2016 Policy on ableism and discrimination based on disability (“Policy”), which we wrote about in the latest edition of In the Know. There, the Commission provided detailed guidance about the type and scope of medical information to be provided in support of a request for accommodation. Such information should include:
- That the person has a disability;
- The limitations or needs associated with the disability;
- Whether the person can perform the essential duties or requirements of the job;
- The type of accommodation(s) that may be needed to allow the person to fulfill the essential duties or requirements of the job; and
- Regular updates about when the person expects to come back to work, if they are on leave.
The policy statement confirms that requests for medical information should focus on the individual’s functional abilities, rather than his or her confidential medical information, such as the cause of the disability, diagnosis, symptoms and treatment. While employers do not have an automatic right to such information and asking for such information could be inappropriate, the policy recognizes that there are certain situations where the employee may have to cooperate and provide this confidential medical information in order for the employer to effectively accommodate the employee’s disability.
The policy statement underscores the important role of medical professionals in helping employees to seek, and employers to implement, appropriate accommodations. The expertise of such professionals is typically relied on to allow employers to understand employees’ functional limitations while still respecting employees’ personal dignity and right to privacy.
The policy statement clarifies the type and scope of medical information that should be provided by an employee in order to support an accommodation request. While medical professionals sometimes provide ambiguous or vague medical notes, the policy statement cautions employers who request information that exceeds what they need to know in order to support an accommodation request. Such requests, which the Commission describes as “overbroad”, could be seen as undermining the dignity and privacy interests of individuals with disabilities and may perpetuate stigma. However, the Policy makes clear that it is proper to request additional information from an employee’s medical practitioner where the medical information provided is inadequate or for another reasonable basis.
In all cases, employers should strive to seek the least intrusive amount of information that gives them a sufficient understanding of the individual’s disability-related needs in order to make an informed decision with respect to potential accommodations in the workplace.
This blog is provided as information and a summary of workplace legal issues.
This information is not intended as legal advice.