The information provided by employees is protected by various pieces of legislation, such as the Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA), Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), and the Human Rights Code (the Code).
All employee information such as home address and contact information, wages and other benefits, and so on must be kept in strict confidence and properly secured. Other employees can only access the information on a “need-to-know” basis and must be able to prove that they have complied with the various forms of privacy legislation.
When an employee approaches the employer to request time off for any reason, but particularly any health-related issue, the employer is required to protect the information given to them.
Employees are NOT REQUIRED to provide a diagnosis to the employer when requesting time off for health reasons. Yes, employees are required to provide suitable proof such as sick notes or Functional Abilities reports from the physician to support their request for time off, but the employer only has the right to ask for enough information to allow for the time off request to be granted.
For example, “Mary” requests six weeks off work, and has provided the employer with documentation from her physician requesting that she be off work. The “why” is considered to be protected information, so the employer is not actually allowed to ask. And even if Mary chooses to inform her manager of the diagnosis/reason for absence, or the information is obvious on the documentation, the employer or manager is not permitted to share this information.
If the request results in a direct impact on a particular staff member or department, employers are permitted to share with those staff only enough information to allow the business to function. For example, the person doing the work schedule can be told that “Mary” will be off work for six weeks, but that is all the information needed.
If other employees question the absence, the employer is not permitted to discuss ANY of the information. If the other employees happen to know (whether Mary told them or they found out on their own) that Mary will be off work, they are not permitted to discuss the absence or any of her personal details either.
If some type of modified duties are required upon Mary’s return, other staff would only be informed if they would be impacted. For example if it was foot surgery and Mary needed to be seated for a few weeks, the employer can rearrange work with other employees and involve them in the process, keeping in mind that they can only share enough information to allow the modifications to proceed.
Employers are also required to make sure that the employee is not subject to bullying or harassment by staff, either during their absence or upon their return to work.
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