Nosy or Necessary?: Balancing requests for medical information and privacy
Health-related issues in the workplace often prompt employer or union requests for medical information, especially in the context of disability accommodation and attendance management. Such requests necessarily involve striking a balance between an employee's right to privacy and an employer's or union representative's entitlement to relevant documentation. In this session, experts will provide guidance on reconciling these interests and discuss best practices for handling employee medical information.
- Making inquiries: What constitutes appropriate questioning regarding an employee's health? How is such questioning distinguished from overly intrusive or discriminatory inquiries? Are there any special considerations when a mental disability is involved?
- Determining what information is necessary: In general terms, what type of information can an employer or union representative legally request in the context of an absence from work due to disability or a workplace accommodation? When can they ask for it? What if the only accommodation sought is a period of absence from work?
- Requesting medical information: What is the most effective way for employers and unions to request information from physicians? If an employee has already submitted a medical certificate from his or her own physician supporting an accommodation or absence request, when will the employer be justified in seeking further information or a specialist's report? What is the process that should be followed in such cases?
- Independent medical examinations: When can an employer require an independent medical examination (IME)? Is the employer entitled to choose the physician conducting the examination? What is the union's role in the IME process? What type of information can an employer legally seek from an IME? Does the scope of accessible information depend on the reason for which the IME is sought (e.g. fitness to return to work, eligibility for benefits, etc.)?
- Confidentiality: What steps must/should employers and unions take to protect the confidentiality of medical information in their possession?