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By  CMG  •  Posted on  December 1, 2010

I’ve been off sick for a few weeks, and my employer is starting to ask questions. How much does my employer really have to know about my medical condition?

Your employer is entitled to basic information that enables them to run their business and know that you are legitimately sick. Essentially, that means providing a note from your doctor. Check your Collective Agreement to determine the number of days you can be absent before you’re required to provide a doctor’s note. This note should contain a general statement about the nature of the illness or injury, your expected return to work date, and confirmation that you are following a treatment plan.

Your employer does not have a right to know what your specific diagnosis is, nor what the details of your treatment plan are. Your medical history is also private. Your employer does not have a right to withhold sick leave if you refuse to you sign a blanket release of medical information. They can, however, ask you to sign a much more specific release about the particular situation. Most of our Collective Agreements contain provisions where the employer or a third-party insurer that manages the health plan can request an independent medical examination. Remember that the information your employer has about your illness or disability is private. Only people who are specifically involved in your request for sick leave should be privy to this information. This is usually limited to the company nurse, Health Services division, insurer, or a Human Resources staff person, if your employer doesn’t have a dedicated staff person or service provider to deal with issues of this nature.

Your colleagues should not be given any information about your health that you have not specifically requested be passed along. If you have any questions about what information your employer can ask for while you are on disability, please contact your union rep.

When you come back to work from a longer absence, your employer will probably ask you for a note from your doctor that states that you’re medically fit to return to work. The second purpose of this note is to talk about any sorts of restrictions you may now have or accommodations you may need, and how long your doctor anticipates those restrictions will last. These could include anything from restrictions on lifting heavy objects to special ergonomic equipment or a quieter place to work. The note may also propose a graduated return to work, during which you start off working fewer days or shorter shifts, with the expectation that you’ll gradually return to full time as you get stronger.

Before you return to work from a longer illness or injury, especially if you’re going to need some sort of modified duties, you will probably be asked to a meeting to talk about what your return to work looks like. You have the right to have a union representative at this meeting if you want one. It’s a good idea to talk with a union rep if you’ve been away for a lengthy period of time or you’re requesting modified duties.

Finally, it’s important to remember that, under human rights legislation, psychiatric disabilities, mental illness, and addiction must be treated as seriously and respectfully as any physical illness or disability, including providing accommodation that allows you to continue doing your job.

Jean Broughton is the CMG’s union services co-ordinator.

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