Employment & Labour

Employers need the right to ask for doctors’ notes: Williams

By Tony Poland, AdvocateDaily.com Associate Editor

Employers should have the right to require a doctor’s note to ensure workers are fit to return to the job, Markham-based employment lawyer Laura Williams tells Maclean’s magazine.

Maclean’s reports that doctors are becoming wary of employers who insist on notes for workers returning to duty.

In one case, the magazine reports that a man who had recovered from a bout of bronchitis was told he would need proof that he was well enough to work. However, while driving to his doctor, the man was injured in a traffic accident.

“This person would have been healthy if they were allowed to return to work without a sick note,” he doctor tells Maclean’s. “The injury prevented them from going back to work right away.”

The doctor tells the magazine he’s begun writing an additional line in his notes for employers, stating why it’s wrong to ask for such documentation.

“It’s a system that doesn’t work — and can cause some real harm,” he says.

According to the magazine, in the past two years, legislation has gone back and forth on doctors’ notes. They were effectively banned in 2017 under the Liberal government, but the Ford government made changes earlier this year allowing employers to ask for them again, Maclean’s reports.

Williams, founder and principal of Williams HR Law and Williams HR Consulting, tells Maclean’s that the notes are necessary.

“There are conditions where, when an employee returns to work, they may not be able to safely perform their duties,” she says. “Employers need to know whether an employee is fit to return.”

Williams tells the magazine it’s not only necessary for aspects of attendance management but also to fulfil the company’s obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

“When you’re accommodating for reasons related to disability, which could be why employees were taking personal emergency leave, you require medical information,” she says.

However, Williams tells Maclean’s that while employers should not go “doctor’s note-happy,” but they would be wise to reserve the right to require them.

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