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Littler LLP: Jordan Waltman

Canada: Ontario Human Rights Commission releases policy statement on medical documentation and disability-related accommodation requests

On February 1, 2017, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (the “Commission”) released a new policy statement on medical documentation and disability-related accommodation requests.

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”), employers have a legal duty to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities who are adversely affected by a work requirement or standard. Accommodation may mean adapting rules or procedures in the workplace to ensure all employees are able to participate and contribute. Accommodation can also require changes to the physical environment to remove barriers for people with disabilities.

The policy statement confirms the critical role of medical professionals in the accommodation process. Both employers and employees rely on physicians and other medical professionals to provide timely information about an employee’s functional needs and limitations in the workplace.

The Commission’s policy statement clarifies the type and scope of medical information to be provided to support an accommodation request. This information should include the following:

  • confirmation that the employee has a disability;
  • the limitations or needs associated with the disability;
  • whether the employee can perform the essential duties or requirements of the job, with or without accommodation;
  • the type of accommodation(s) that may be needed to allow the employee to fulfill the essential duties or requirements of the job; and
  • regular updates about when the employee expects to return to work, if on leave.

In requesting medical documentation, employers must respect the dignity and privacy of people with disabilities. The information requested should be the least intrusive of the employee’s privacy, while still giving the organization enough information to meaningfully assess the accommodation request.

Specifically, the Commission states that the employer does not have the right to know a person’s confidential medical information, such as the cause of the disability, diagnosis, symptoms or treatment, unless these clearly relate to the accommodation being sought or if the employee’s needs are complex or unclear.

To implement appropriate accommodations while respecting the employee’s dignity and privacy, the policy statement emphasizes that the focus always be on the functional limitations and work restrictions associated with the disability, and not the employee’s diagnosis.

Employers with operations in Ontario must ensure that their internal accommodation policies and procedures comply with these policies on medical documentation and disability-related accommodation requests.

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