Getting information for accommodation reasons

The limits on what information an employer can seek about an employee's medical condition

Brian Johnston

Question: We are aware that employees must participate in the accommodation process. How much information about an employee’s medical condition can an employer ask for when an employee needs accommodation? What should the employer do if a doctor provides too much information?

Answer: There is a fair amount of law regarding what an employer can seek with respect to accommodating an employee's medical condition. Essentially, the employer needs to have all the information relevant to the protected characteristic in order for it to consider and attempt to fashion appropriate accommodation. In particular, the employer may need to receive a diagnosis and treatment plan; mere identification of the disability may not be sufficient for the employer to develop an accommodation strategy (see Halliday v Michelin North America (Canada) Ltd.).

Most employers filter such information through a physician or nurse separate from human resources operations personnel so that the employer is not directly receiving medical information. Instead, the employer is receiving only the information that is relevant with respect to accommodation. Therefore, if a filter is in place, the employer will never know whether too much information has been provided. The company's doctor should not provide more information than what is necessary.

If the employer is not filtering the information through a physician or nurse, the employer should ensure that any communication with the employee regarding information relevant to accommodation is in writing (or confirmed in writing), and very clear with respect to the information which the employer requires. With a paper record, the employer should be protected against any complaint that an employee had been asked for more information than necessary to facilitate the accommodation process.

For more information see:

Halliday v Michelin North America (Canada) Ltd., [2006] N.S.H.R.B.I.D. No. 6.

Brian Johnston is a partner with Stewart McKelvey in Halifax. He can be reached at (902) 420-3374 or bjohnston@smss.com.

Latest stories