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An employee on sick leave has provided a doctor's note saying "required to be off for 2 months". Can I ask for better medical information?

While no two employers are alike, there are common workplace issues that arise for which the CCP team provides strategic legal advice. We have compiled a list of “Top Ten Questions” asked by employers and the answers to those questions on our new website as a resource for employers. Over the next several months, we will be featuring these “Top Ten” in our Employers’ Edge Blog.

Question: An employee on sick leave has provided a doctor's note saying "required to be off for 2 months".  Can I ask for better medical information?

The answer is yes.

The employer’s legal duty to accommodate under the Ontario Human Rights Code includes allowing employees to be away from work for periods of time if the nature of their medical issue requires the absence.

Physicians play a necessary and critical role in this accommodation process in two key ways. First, the physician triggers the accommodation process by notifying the employer that the employee is experiencing a medical issue that restricts or prevents him or her from performing the ordinary job duties. Second, the physician provides an objective opinion about what the employee’s medical restrictions are, what his or her functional limitations are and how long the limitations are expected to last. It is not the physician’s role to direct the employer to provide particular forms of accommodation. That decision lies with the employer.

In this context, a note that simply says “required to be off for 2 months” is unhelpful. While an employer should accept the note as a validation of the employee’s need for accommodation, it doesn’t help in assessing whether other forms of accommodation, apart from a 2 month leave of absence would be appropriate, nor does it assist the employer in understanding how long the employee will require accommodated arrangements.

The best course of action when dealing with unhelpful physician notes is to write to the employee, explaining why the supplied note is inadequate and outlining the kind and scope of information that is required going forward. It is often useful to include a letter drafted to the employee’s physician that outlines the information that is needed, together with a medical authorization for the employee to sign and provide to the physician in order to permit direct communication between the physician and a single employer representative.

Employers should always be prepared to shoulder the cost of any medical reports. As well, employers must remember to limit their request for information only to what is required for the accommodation process. This means that information relating to diagnoses are rarely if ever relevant and should not be requested. However, information relating to functional limitations and abilities and prognosis details are appropriate.

The accommodation process, and the myriad issues that arise with the intersection of disability and employment, is rarely straightforward. The advice of counsel experienced in these issues, like CCP, is always value added.

Please Note: This blog has been prepared as an informational service for our clients and other interested parties. It is not intended to constitute legal advice, a complete statement of the law or opinion on any subject. Although we endeavour to ensure the accuracy of the content, no one should act upon the information provided without a thorough examination of the law after the facts of a specific situation are fully considered.


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