How to Handle Employee Requests to Attend a Doctor
Nick Rossi is a Legal Counsel at Peninsula Employment Services. Called to the Ontario Bar in 2014, Nick specializes in employment law, employee privacy, drafting employment documentation, legal research, and legislative interpretation.
How to Handle Employee Requests to Attend a Doctor’s Appointment?
As an employer, it is important to know your legal obligations when it comes to giving your employees time off for doctor’s appointments. Because appointments are often difficult to schedule and frequently fall within regular working hours, it is common for employees to ask for time off during the work day. Employers should address these requests in a consistent and legally compliant manner while recognizing that certain employees may need special accommodation depending on the circumstances.
Are employers obligated to give time off for doctor’s appointments?
In Canada, there is currently no legislated time off specifically meant for doctor’s appointments. However, each province offers a type of leave that an employee could use to attend such an appointment. For example, in Ontario, the Employment Standards Act allows employees to take three days of unpaid job-protected leave each calendar year, which can be used for personal illness, injury, or medical emergency. Similarly, in Alberta, the Employment Standards Code provides up to five unpaid days of personal and family responsibility leave, which an employee can use for their own health or to meet family responsibilities.
For federally-regulated employees, Bill C-86, which received Royal Assent in December 2018 and comes into effect on September 1, 2019, will amend the Canada Labour Code to entitle every employee to a medical leave of absence for up to 17 unpaid weeks as a result of a personal illness or injury, organ or tissue donation, or medical appointments during working hours.
Aside from legislative time off, employees can use a half or full vacation day to attend a doctor’s appointment. Finally, an employer is always free to provide additional time off (for example, personal days), over and above the minimum statutory amounts, for employees to attend doctor’s appointments.
How can employers provide time off without compromising employee productivity?
If employers are particularly concerned about ensuring that work is completed and deadlines are met, they can offer other options to employees who need to attend an appointment during working hours. For example, employers can offer flexible working arrangements, where an employee’s start and end times vary to accommodate the appointment but their total working hours per day do not change.
Do pregnant employees have a right to time off for doctor’s appointments?
The situation is different for pregnant employees, who have a right to reasonable accommodation for pregnancy-related appointments under human rights legislation. Like other employees, pregnant employees should try to schedule appointments outside of work hours. However, if this is not possible, an employer should not unreasonably deny the time off and has a duty to accommodate pregnant employees to the point of undue hardship.
Is the duty to provide time off different for employees with disabilities?
Employees with a disability may require more frequent appointments than others; employers have a duty to accommodate such employees up to the point of undue hardship, and denying them time off for doctor’s appointments could result in a human rights violation.
Employers should keep in mind that requests for medical information must be limited to only what is necessary for the accommodation.
How should employers convey their expectations regarding time off?
Employers should document their hours of work and time off policies in employment contracts or employee handbooks. Such policies should encourage employees to schedule routine doctor’s appointments outside of working hours. They should also set out information for situations where employees do need to miss work, including notice requirements, whether the time off is paid, and requesting doctor’s notes.
What should employers do when an employee lies about an appointment?
Occasionally, employers may face a situation where an employee uses a doctor’s appointment as a cover for other activities that would not be approved by their employer as time off. The employer should have a conversation with their employee to address this concern in a timely and open manner. Such behaviour may also warrant disciplinary action. Employers should have a clearly-written disciplinary policy to deal with these scenarios.
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