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Individual alleged that employer asked for too much medical information

PIPEDA Case Summary #2003-135

[Principle 4.4 of Schedule 1; section 5(3)]


An employee of a trucking company complained that her employer asked her to provide excessive medical information in order to justify a period of sick leave.

Summary of Investigation

When the complainant first went on medical leave, she provided her employer with a physician's note that included a diagnosis and the expected date of return to work. As the individual's condition had not improved by that date, she sought to extend her leave and submitted a form that is used by Human Resources Development Canada for individuals claiming employment insurance. Its purpose is not to certify sick leave to an employer. The company informed the complainant that she had not provided adequate information and requested documentation from her physician describing her medical condition, noting any restrictions related to her job function, and the expected date of return to work.

The company's sick leave policy states that employees must submit verification of illness signed by a doctor, if requested or if they are absent for a certain length of time. The policy does not specify what type of information should be provided. The company indicated that its purpose for collecting medical information was to find out when the employee was expected to return to work and whether the individual was capable of performing any secondary duties. The company referred to its obligations under the Canadian Human Rights Act to accommodate employees with special needs. The company stated that it needed sufficient information about the employee's medical condition in order to fulfill this requirement.

The employee provided the company with a one-sentence letter from a doctor stating that she was suffering from a medical disability and the new expected return to work date. The company did not indicate that it had accepted this information; however, it did not ask the employee to provide additional details. The investigation confirmed that the company had in fact accepted this letter prior to the complaint being filed.

The investigation revealed that there were ambiguities in the company's correspondence with respect to what information was being sought, which in turn led to a misunderstanding on the part of the employee. The employee assumed that she was being asked for detailed medical information, including a diagnosis, which would be used to judge whether she was in fact too ill to come to work. The company, on the other hand, indicated that a letter from her doctor stating that the complainant was unable to work due to illness was sufficient, though an expected date of return to work had to be included.

Commissioner's Findings

Issued March 6, 2003

Jurisdiction: As of January 1, 2001, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (the Act) applies to any federal work, undertaking, or business. The Commissioner had jurisdiction in this case because a trucking company that operates interprovincially is a federal work, undertaking, or business as defined in the Act.

Application: Section 5(3) stipulates that an organization may collect, use or disclose personal information only for purposes that a reasonable person would consider are appropriate in the circumstances. Principle 4.4 states that the collection of personal information shall be limited to that which is necessary for the purposes identified by the organization.

The Commissioner considered the company's purposes for collecting the complainant's personal information to be reasonable, as stipulated in section 5(3). He indicated that it was appropriate for the company to ask for confirmation of the illness and the expected date of return so that it could plan accordingly. Similarly, the Commissioner noted that the employer legitimately required a certain amount of medical information so that it could accommodate the employee in her position, an obligation that the company must meet under Canadian human rights legislation.

While the Commissioner commented that a lack of clarity in the company's correspondence may have led the complainant to conclude that the company was asking for more information than it needed, he was satisfied that the company had limited its collection of personal information. He noted that the company had not in fact collected all of the information that it had requested when it accepted the one-sentence note from the doctor. Given this, the Commissioner found that the company's actions were in keeping with Principle 4.4 of Schedule 1.

He therefore concluded that the complaint was not well-founded.

Other Considerations

The Commissioner expressed his concern about the lack of clarity in the company's communications and asked it to ensure that future requests for medical certificates be worded clearly to state that the company is seeking a prognosis and not a diagnosis.

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