The duty of an employer to accommodate a worker with a disability imposes many obligations, such as: acting in good faith, and making a diligent and reasonable search for alternative work. These obligations, and the extent that employers fail to recognize just how far they go, often lead to problems with the accommodation process.
However, it is just as important for employees to remember that they also have an obligation when the employer is trying to accommodate them.
Employees have to cooperate by providing reasonable details of the way the medical condition is interfering with or preventing the performance of their job. This is also true when justifying an absence.
That doesn’t mean a person with a disability has to give blanket access to their medical file. They only have to provide information that is reasonably necessary for their employer to understand the effect of the illness on their ability to do their work.
Sometimes employees and even healthcare providers will be reluctant to provide information. This can result in serious consequences for the employee.
A case in point is Saskatchewan (Labour Relations and Workplace Safety) v Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union. In that case, the arbitrator repeated the general law that the longer an employee is absent, the more information the employer will be entitled to request. If the illness or the return to work may require an accommodation, the employer will be entitled to even more information. The arbitrator found that, despite many requests, the employee had failed to supply enough medical information to claim sick leave. As well, the arbitrator decided that there was a significant lack of medical information, including information on accommodation. The failure to produce the information was enough, according to the award, to justify the employer’s decision to terminate her employment.
That was an extreme case, with its own particular facts, but it highlights the need for employees and those representing them to be careful when withholding medical and other necessary information. In order to take proper advantage of the significant rights to be accommodated, the employee has an obligation to cooperate. That includes providing enough information – either directly or through a healthcare provider – to support a proper accommodation.
To read more about the obligations of the employee in workplace accommodation, take a look at our previous blog post.