Employer went beyond what is necessary: arbitrator
An Alberta company and its benefits provider overreached in the medical information sought to support short-term disability (STD) claims, an arbitration board has ruled.
EPCOR Utilities is a utility company based in Edmonton. EPCOR funded an STD benefit program administrated by a third-party provider. If the employee was going to be absent for more than 10 working days, they had to complete an employee consent form and have their doctor complete an attending physician form, both to be submitted to the benefits provider.
The benefits booklet given to employees stated that a failure to meet the requirements of the STD program might result in the denial or termination of benefits, with one of the requirements being the provision of supporting medical information that was satisfactory to the benefits provider. The booklet also indicated that employees had to be under the care of an appropriate medical practitioner as approved by the benefits provider. Non-medical information, prognosis, and return-to-work information would be shared with EPCOR, but not any medical information from the forms.
Some employees expressed concern about the extent of medical information they and their doctors were required to provide in order to access STD benefits — the doctor’s form asked for a primary diagnosis, a secondary diagnosis, specific information if it was a mental health issue, test results, current medications, and recommended work limitations, regardless if accommodation was requested.
The union filed a grievance claiming that the forms were coercive and intrusive. It argued that medical information should go through the employee and the STD process attempted to insert the benefits provider into the medical assessment process “which is the domain of the treating physician.”
The arbitration board noted that the evidence showed that both EPCOR and the benefits provider had appropriate measures in place to protect the confidentiality of employees’ medical information. However, it didn’t matter if too much information was being sought, the board added.
The board also pointed out that Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) requires consent to the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information. The benefits provider had a standard practice of requiring employees to sign the employee consent form, but PIPA prohibits organizations from requiring consent for the collection of information beyond what is necessary to provide a product or service, as a condition of supplying that product or service.
The board found that the breadth of information sought on the medical forms was too broad and created the risk that extraneous information would be received. The medical forms should be “precise with respect to the type of medical information being sought” to avoid misunderstandings, said the board.
The board found that the request for primary and secondary diagnosis, detailed medical history, and detailed information on treatment and test results was intrusive and unnecessary for the purpose of providing STD benefits.
“Information is requested on other medical conditions that are present even if they are not the direct cause of the absence from work requiring an even wider range of medical information,” said the board, noting that the physician should only have to “advise of the general nature of the medical condition that is causing the employee to be currently absent from work.”
The board also found that the consent form was too broad in asking for consent of any healthcare practitioner or clinic that had medical records related to the current absence, although it reasonably limited the information to that related to the current absence and related health condition.
The board determined that the medical forms were “overly broad, unreasonable, and violate the collective agreement.” It left the matter with EPCOR, the union, and the benefits provider to revise the medical forms to “strike the appropriate balance” between the information needed to provide STD benefits and employee privacy.