Medical certificates: privacy versus policy

Medical certificates: privacy versus policy

Medical certificates: privacy versus policy

A worker calls in to say they are sick, they need at least two days off. The next day they call to request a third day. In accordance with their employment agreement, you ask for a medical certificate, but when it arrives all it says is the employee was “absent for medical reasons.” The note has a doctor’s name, but is not dated.

Without a date or more information, how can you tell whether they were entitled to that leave, and whether they even saw the doctor?

This was exactly the situation in a case last year between Providence Care, Mental Health Services and Ontario Public Service Employees Union. The arbitrator in the case decided the employer does have the right to more information, including the date of the doctor’s visit and “the general statement of the nature of the disabling illness or injury, without diagnosis or symptoms.”

However, this leaves a grey area, as the “nature” of an illness often overlaps with the diagnosis or symptoms.

“The employee’s privacy interest is paramount, and that test is therefore objective reasonableness, with any doubt being resolved in favour of the employee,” says Ontario labour arbitrator George Sudykowski. “An employer is entitled to sufficient information to establish than an employee’s absence from work was legitimate, and that an employee who claims sick leave benefits for an absence was in fact unable to work due to illness or injury.”

He suggests that while more employers and doctors were honest, it was possible to “shop around” doctors to get a medical certificate.

Sudykowski notes that a clear employment agreement would prevent such conflicts because each party would understand their rights and obligations.

A Canadian Medical Association spokesperson says issuing a false statement is grounds for a doctor to lose their licence.


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