November 11, 2019

Although they are relatively common, medical conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and environmental sensitivities present difficulties for workplace parties in the accommodation process. Employers and unions are often unfamiliar with these conditions, resulting in a lack of support for affected employees, who frequently face skepticism regarding the severity and even the existence of their symptoms. In this session, experts will review effective strategies and best practices for accommodating employees with poorly understood medical conditions. Topics to be discussed include the following:

  • What types of medical conditions might be considered to be poorly understood? What is the prevalence of these conditions among Canadian workers? Are these conditions characterized as disabilities under human rights legislation? What aspects of these conditions might render them more difficult to address within the existing framework of accommodation?
  • What obstacles commonly faced by employees with poorly understood medical conditions differ from those faced by employees with conditions or disabilities that are more widely known and documented? How do stereotypes and stigma associated with poorly understood medical conditions contribute to the challenge of providing accommodation?
  • When must employees disclose a medical condition to their employer? Why might an employee struggle with disclosure? Are potential employers legally permitted to ask job applicants if they have a medical condition that may affect work performance?
  • What medical information is an employer legally permitted to request to facilitate accommodation? Is an employer entitled to more information when an employee has a medical condition that is poorly understood? Can an employer periodically require updated medical information? How should employers and unions balance the need for medical information against the privacy rights of employees?
  • Is an employer obliged to accommodate employees with medical conditions that cannot be easily documented or objectively proved, such as chronic pain disorders? Is a definitive diagnosis from a medical professional necessary to support an accommodation request?
  • What types of accommodations might be appropriate for employees with poorly understood medical conditions? What are examples of unique accommodations that have been implemented in complex cases? When should an employee take sick leave or disability leave instead of continuing to work with accommodations?
  • What are the limits of an employer’s duty to accommodate? When will an employer be able to establish that it has accommodated an employee to the point of undue hardship? At what point will an employee’s repeated medical absences justify dismissal?
  • What is the union’s role in the accommodation process? When members are on long-term leaves from the workplace, do unions breach their duty of fair representation if they do not maintain adequate communication with members regarding their fitness to work, possible accommodations, and return to work?