Medical Leave

The Alberta Human Rights Act (AHR Act) prohibits discrimination based on physical and mental disability as well as health-related consequences of pregnancy. Employers are required to accommodate employees who require a leave for medical reasons. You can read about the duty to accommodate.

Physical disability is defined in the Act as any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness. This includes, but is not limited to, epilepsy; paralysis; amputation; lack of physical coordination; visual, hearing and speech impediments; and physical reliance on a guide dog or wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device.

Mental disability is defined in the Act as any mental disorder, developmental disorder or learning disorder, regardless of the cause or duration of the disorder.

A disability may be actual or perceived. For example, an employer may mistakenly believe that an employee is addicted to marijuana and make a derogatory comment about the employee or discipline the employee. An addiction to drugs or alcohol, whether actual or perceived, is a protected ground under the Act. In this example, the employee would be considered to have a perceived disability.

The Act allows people to make a complaint to the Commission if they feel that they have experienced harassment or have been discriminated against in a specific area and based on grounds protected under the Act.

Employers may request information relevant to determining how employee accommodation may be achieved. It is the employee's responsibility to provide information that will help the employer assess an accommodation request. Employers seeking medical information about an employee with a disability are not automatically entitled to a diagnosis of the employee's illness or disability or to information about the employee's specific medical treatment.

Should an employer receive job-related medical information about an employee, such information should be kept strictly confidential and only released as needed.

Employers may request information about:

  • the prognosis for full or partial recovery
  • the employee's fitness to return to work
  • the employee's fitness to perform specific components of the pre-injury job
  • the likely duration of any physical or mental restrictions or limitations following the employee's return to work

Employers may also request information to ensure that an employee is fit to perform the key duties of the job. This would include information regarding an employee's mental and physical functional abilities. When a physician or other health professional is providing information about an employee's fitness for work, it may be helpful to them to review the employee's job description so that they have a clear idea of the type of tasks the employee is required to perform.

Employees are responsible for cooperating with reasonable requests for medical information. For example, it would not normally be reasonable for an employee to be expected to provide a medical note for a short absence of one day. It would not be unexpected or unreasonable for an employer to request a medical note regarding an employee's fitness to work after an employee has been absent for a longer period of time, or after an unusual series of short absences.

Revised: February 5, 2010


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