Can I refuse a request by my Employer to disclose my personal medical information?
Consider the following scenario: You’re seeking to go on a short-term leave because of a chronic medical condition. You wish to keep the details of your condition private. But when you ask your manager for time off, she requests your doctor’s name, address, phone number, and other private details. This feels like an invasion of your privacy. Can your manager do this?
This situation can be difficult. But the fact is, if you’re seeking to go on a short- or long-term sick or disability leave, your employer has a right to request certain medical disclosure. Your employer also has a right to request medical information where you require special accommodation due to medical or physical disability. The extent of the information your employer may request will vary depending on the circumstances, such as the length of any medical leave.
Generally, an employer may request the following information:
- Your expected or anticipated return to work date;
- The prognosis of your medical condition; and
- Whether there may be any functional or physical limitations on your ability to perform the duties in your role.
In general, your employer should not be requesting your actual medical diagnosis. A doctor’s note confirming your prognosis and providing information relevant to potential accommodation should be enough.
What should you do if your employer’s request for information is overly broad?
If you’re a union member, your employment will be governed by a collective agreement negotiated between your union and the employer. In this context, the collective agreement may specify what medical information your employer is entitled to. If your employer’s request for information is too broad, the union should be able to negotiate on your behalf. If necessary, the union can use the grievance process in the collective agreement and bring the matter before an arbitrator.
Employees in non-union workplaces may need to be more cautious. In theory, you should be required to provide no more or less information than employees in a union workplace (subject to any specific requirements in a collective agreement). But in practice, you may face greater challenges enforcing your rights, as you won’t have access to the grievance process that union members do. Thus, if you outright refuse a request for disclosure, you may risk losing the benefit in question or face discipline, with little recourse.
From an employer’s perspective, asking for more information than necessary may damage the employee-employer relationship, since it can be perceived as a breach of privacy. For casual sick leave, you should generally not be requesting a doctor’s note, unless this is a term in the collective agreement or there is a reason to suspect the employee is abusing leave. Even then, it may be smart to go back to the employee with your concern and attempt to rectify it before requesting any personal medical information.
So, the bottom-line is, no, you cannot refuse your employer’s request for medical information, at least when you wish to go on medical leave or are seeking accommodation due to an illness or injury. However, your employer’s right to request such information is limited and should generally not include any actual diagnosis. To determine what information your employer can reasonably request, you will need to consider the specific facts of your situation and whether there is a collective agreement – or seek experienced counsel to advise you.
Author: Evan Oikawa