In a recent BC arbitration case involving the Surrey School Board, Arbitrator Don Munroe, Q.C., gave clear guidelines on the extent of medical information an employer may require from employees when applying for sick leave. Although the specific case dealt with partial medical leave requests pursuant to the local teacher collective agreement, the principles set out by the arbitrator may be of use to all employers.
The particular collective agreement provided that teachers may be entitled to partial medical leave where a medical certificate is produced stating that the employee is unable to work full time but is capable of working part time. The school board instituted a practice requiring all employees making such requests to provide a general release allowing the school board physician to directly contact the employee’s physician and requiring the disclosure of specific medical information.
The arbitrator held that the blanket policy requiring an employee to execute a release of his/her medical information and authorization to contact their personal physician was unreasonable and the policy was struck down.
However, it was held that the requiring of a standard medical certificate form was not offensive to the collective agreement. Requiring the employee to authorize his or her physician to complete a medical certificate or “physician’s statement” was also found to be reasonable.
The arbitrator went further to set out what information could be required to be filled out in the “physician’s statement”, which included:
- inquiring as to whether a course of treatment has been prescribed or recommended;
- whether the teacher is following the course of treatment as prescribed or recommended;
- whether medical follow-ups are occurring; and
- whether the medical cause of the application for partial medical leave might be addressed by alterations to assignment other than reduced teaching load.
Finally, the arbitrator held that the submission of a proper medical certificate does not preclude the employer from further investigation where circumstances warrant it.
Many collective agreements include reference to the requirement of employees to present a medical certificate from their physician when applying for various medical leaves. These provisions generally do not set out the specific information that must be included on the medical certificate in order to allow the employer to make a decision as to whether the illness is bona fide and whether medical leave benefits should be extended to the particular employee.
This case may be used to support the introduction by the employer of standard medical information forms to be filled out by the employee’s physician and may allow the employer to obtain more detailed medical information than previously permitted under arbitral case law.