Medical information

Employers, employees, trade unions, and doctors all play a role in gathering reasonable medical information in disability, injury, or illness situations.

What is medical information?

Medical information is information from a doctor about the state of a person’s health. In the workplace, employees may need to provide medical information from their doctor about whether they are fit to work or require accommodation at work.  

Employers may request medical information to:  

  • confirm an employee's absence for medical reasons
  • decide whether an employee is fit to return to work after a medical absence
  • understand an employee's restrictions and limitations relating to their job duties
  • explore reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability
  • decide whether they can accommodate an employee’s disability

Pre-employment medical evaluations

An employer can ask for a pre-employment medical evaluation only if there are no other reasonable ways to assess the candidate’s ability to do the job. The employer can also only require testing after making a conditional job offer. The testing should be limited to only providing information about the candidate’s ability to do the job, not about their health generally.

For example, a psychological exam may screen out candidates with a mental disability. This testing is only acceptable if the employer can show a mental disability would prevent the candidate from performing key job duties. This might be reasonable for those working in high-stress situations such as paramedics or 911 operators.

Candidates should give employers enough information about their accommodation needs based on a protected ground to allow employers to assess ways to accommodate them. Employers must protect the employee’s privacy by keeping confidential all testing information and accommodation requests.

The employer cannot refuse to hire a candidate because of a disability unless the disability would prevent the candidate from doing the job and an accommodation would create an undue hardship, or where the employer cannot accommodate the condition because of a Bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR).

Absence for medical reasons

When an employee is absent from work for medical reasons, an employer may ask for medical information that:

  • confirms the employee’s absence is for medical reasons
  • gives an approximate return to work date
  • only relates to the operation of the workplace and the employee’s job duties
  • relates to the period of absence

Some disability-related absences may not require any medical documentation. For example, short or infrequent absences likely only require minimal medical information. Employers are not entitled to an employee’s diagnosis except in very limited circumstances.

Return to work and accommodation at work

Employers have a duty to reasonably accommodate an employee’s request for accommodation to the point of undue hardship. For more information, read the Duty to accommodate at work page.

When an employee returns to work after a medical absence, the employer may ask the employee’s doctor to confirm in writing that:

  • the employee is fit to return to work, and
  • what, if any, accommodation the employee needs.

Employees have a duty to cooperate in the accommodation process. They must make the employer aware of their need for accommodation and provide reasonable medical information to support their request for their employer to understand their needs and to inform accommodation options.

For example, the employee may need to provide information such as:

  • whether the illness or injury is permanent or temporary
  • what restrictions and limitations they have
  • whether their treatment or medication will affect their ability to perform job duties
  • expected length of disability and absence (prognosis for recovery)
  • their fitness to return to work
  • their fitness to perform specific parts of the pre-injury job
  • their ability to perform modified work
  • likely duration of any physical or mental restrictions or limitations following their return to work

The medical information an employer needs to assess accommodation options depends on the situation, including the nature of the worksite, the extent of medical restrictions, and the employee’s accommodation request. For physical and mental disabilities, employees often must provide documents from medical professionals.

The employee, the employer, and trade union (if there is one) must all cooperate in the accommodation process. An employee cannot refuse a reasonable solution just because they prefer a different kind of accommodation.

Limits with medical information

Employers should limit requests for medical information to only what is reasonably necessary to:

  • decide if an accommodation request is valid, and
  • explore options for providing accommodation based on an employee’s medical restrictions when they can return to work.

What is reasonably necessary depends on the situation and what the request is about. For example, if an employee does not ask for or need any accommodation, they have the right to full privacy over their medical information, meaning they do not have to share any medical information with their employer. For simple or very short-term accommodation requests, the employer may need only some medical information from the employee. For longer-term or complicated requests, or if there is doubt about the initial medical information, the employer may require more detailed information from the employee.

While an employer can ask an employee for medical information when they are absent for medical reasons or require accommodation at work, there are certain things the employer does not have the right to do. For example, employers do not have the right to:

  • contact the employee’s doctor by phone, without the employee’s consent
  • demand a particular opinion, for example, that the employee is fit to work and will never require future accommodation
  • request medical information unrelated to their employment
  • release medical information to anyone other than staff who need it for a specific purpose
  • know the employee’s diagnosis, except in limited cases


When disability is one of the reasons for workplace discipline or potential termination, the employer must consider the employee’s medical information about their disability or absence. The employer cannot simply discipline or terminate an employee based on the employee’s absence record. Employers have a duty to accommodate employees with disabilities to the point of undue hardship. For more information, refer to the Duty to accommodate at work page.

An employee who feels they are being terminated or disciplined for a disability-related absence should provide the employer with medical information to support their claim. An employee with a mental health or addiction issue that is affecting their ability to work should be encouraged to get help from a doctor or addictions expert. They should also provide information about their disability to their employer as soon as possible.

Privacy is an important concern when it comes to employees providing medical information. However, the right to privacy over one’s medical information is not absolute, especially when making a request for accommodation at work. 

Employers need to understand the extent of an employee’s medical restrictions so that they can decide if a request is valid and explore available accommodation options. Employees must cooperate in the accommodation process, which includes showing that their request is medically necessary and giving details about their restrictions and limitations. Depending on the situation, an employee may need to provide more medical information to support their request. 

If you have questions about privacy issues, refer to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Conflicting medical opinions are common, such as between a family doctor and a specialist, between two specialists, or between a Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) doctor and an independent doctor.

Usually, an employer will accept the opinion of an independent specialist who practices in the area of the employee’s disability over the opinion of a family doctor. If two specialists give conflicting information, it may be necessary to choose another specialist whom the employee and employer agree on to resolve the conflict.

In complex medical situations, employers may require more detailed medical information from their employees. Employees may look into:

  • getting further information from their family doctor or specialist in writing
  • choosing a specialist that the employee and employer agree on to do an independent medical examination (IME), where there is a difference of opinion between specialists and an IME is required

Before asking for more medical information, employers should first decide if they can assess the situation using information the employee has already provided. If not, the employer should:

  • ask the employee to get more information from a healthcare professional, such as a doctor, specialist, mental health professional, nurse practitioner, or physical or occupational health therapist
  • let the employee know in writing that they must provide further medical information, and indicate why the information is necessary
  • specifically identify the information they are requesting
  • remind the employee that they will only share information with others in the workplace on a need-to-know basis
  • continue to be open about concerns the employee has about providing further medical information, and try to resolve the concerns with the employee

In some situations, employees may not willingly provide necessary medical information. In other situations, an employee may not be aware of how their disability is affecting their work or may disagree with the employer’s assessment of their fitness to work. In these cases, it is important for employers to take extra measures by:

  • meeting with the employee, if they are still working
  • respectfully requesting the information, and
  • explaining why the information is important.

When providing medical information for a medical absence, doctors should:

  • make sure the information relates to the operation of the workplace and the employee’s job duties
  • certify that the employee cannot work due to a legitimate medical condition
  • set out the anticipated length of the absence

Doctors do not need to disclose a diagnosis except in very limited circumstances. In most cases, this medical information is enough to support an employee’s request for a medical absence. However, there may be situations where the employer has reasonable concerns about the validity of a medical note and may need further medical information. For example, the employer may need more information about the nature of the disability and whether it is based on an objective medical evaluation.

Accommodation requests often require more information than medical absences from work.

When providing medical information for returning to work, doctors should provide information including:

  • that an employee is fit to return to work
  • what functional restrictions and limitations the employee has, and their duration
  • whether the treatment or medication the employee is taking will affect the employee’s ability to perform job duties in a satisfactory and safe way

When requesting accommodation at work, an employee must provide enough medical information for their employer to be satisfied that the request is legitimate and for their employer to fully understand their medical restrictions and limitations.

At a minimum, the medical information must certify:

  • that the employee is diagnosed with a disability
  • the general nature of the disability
  • the nature, scope, and duration of restrictions and limitations flowing from the disability

Ideally, the medical information should set out the employee’s required accommodations.