Injury and illness workplace absence: Q & A for Employers

4/24/2018

An accident happens, and an employee goes on long term disability. It’s in everyone’s interest to ensure an expedient but safe return to work where possible, but employers may have questions about what this means and what their obligations are.

Does an employer have to allow an injured or ill employee to return to work?

Yes. An employee that suffers illness or injury, whether work-related or not, must be allowed to return to work unless accommodation would cause the employer undue hardship. They cannot be terminated solely because of their absence or disability.

What can an employer ask for regarding a medical leave?

While an employer is generally not entitled to a diagnosis, an employer does have the right to ask for certain information. You may ask for a doctor’s confirmation that an employee is absent for medical reasons, a prognosis for recovery, and information about the employee’s fitness to return to work — including whether accommodations will be needed upon the return.

What kinds of accommodations is an employer responsible for?

Every workplace is different, but an employer must provide accommodation so long as doing so won’t cause the employer undue hardship. Often, accommodations are relatively simple to implement, but undue hardship could include extreme financial cost, a disruptive impact on operations, or the effect on other employees’ well-being. The capacity and resources of the employer to provide the accommodation are also a factor.

What if an employee can no longer perform their role?

A bona fide occupational requirement is an aspect of a job that may justify a particular discrimination — legal blindness would disqualify a person from a job that requires driving, for example. In cases such as these, the employer should make a reasonable effort to reconfigure the employee’s job duties if possible.

What should an employee tell an employer?

While an employee does have a right to privacy with their personal medical information, they do have a responsibility to communicate with their employer what accommodations they will require and how long they expect to be absent. Ideally, the employer and employee should be in a reasonable degree of communication, though not so much such that the employer would be seen to be harassing the employee.

How should an employer evaluate this information?

An employer may find that the information provided is enough to excuse the employee’s absence, enough to allow them to return to work at their existing duties, or enough to determine suitable accommodations. An employer may also find that there is not sufficient information to answer those questions.

What can an employer do if they’re having trouble?

If the process is giving the employer a lot of trouble in terms of understanding the issue, confirming legitimacy of absence, determining appropriate accommodations, or obtaining information to clarify any aspect, they may find value in requesting an independent medical examination (IME).

How does an independent medical examination work?

IMEs allow an employer to apply the expertise of an outside, independent medical practitioner to obtain clarity around an employee’s medical issue in terms of how it affects their work. If an employer is not confident in or able to acquire sufficient information to facilitate a return to work, an IME can help settle the question.

How should an employer select an IME provider?

Asking an employee to go through an independent medical assessment should be done for the good of both parties. An IME provider with access to a wide network of dedicated specialists generally means a more authoritative opinion than a general practitioner and another useful level of patient care — though to prevent conflicts of interest, the IME provider should not provide treatment. Western Medical Assessments has access to thousands of experts and has handled 63,000 cases ethically and expeditiously. If you need more information on how an IME can help an employee return to work, reach out to us and get started.

Author: WMA


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