Saturday, 18 January 2014

Can My Employer Reject My Doctor's Note?

(c) istock/BrianAJackson

Can your employer, a long-term disability insurer, or the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (“WSIB”) legally reject your doctor’s note?

That is one of the most common questions asked by those employees who find themselves suddenly unemployed or without benefits. It is also a source of incredible anxiety and frustration. The answer is very complicated, and like everything in law, the correct answer is “it depends.”

There are a number of occasions in which an employee may be asked to produce a doctor’s note or medical certificate from their treating health care professional. The three most common cases where a doctor’s note is requested of employees are:

  1. In order to be excused from employment;
  2. In order to receive disability benefits; and
  3. In order to receive WSIB benefits.

While in each case the information is provided to different recipient (i.e. an employer, an insurance company, or the WSIB) the result can be the same: the recipient might disagree with your doctor’s conclusion.

For example, you may provide a note from your doctor saying that in his/her professional opinion you are medically unable to work. Can your employer say that they think you are well enough to work and tell you to come in any way?

The answer is yes, they can. But “can” only means that the employer/insurance company/WSIB is able to disagree. As I often remind people, anyone can break the law, the question is what are the consequences if they do so?

So does that mean that it’s illegal for an employer/insurance company/the WSIB to reject a doctor’s note? Usually not – but sometimes it can be.

The problem is that people can disagree on things; that’s why we have courts and judges: to settle disagreements.

That means that your employer can disagree with your doctor’s opinion. In some (but not all) cases your employer may have the right to send you to another doctor, who may have a different opinion.

The case quickly gets complicated when there are competing medical opinions. That’s what a lot of lawsuits and cases are about: sorting out who is right and what that means by way of entitlements.

Takeaways for Employees with Labour Pains

If you are reading this post it is likely because you want information about what your employer, your insurance company, or the WSIB can legally do. Unfortunately you’re not going to find the answer to your question about your case on the internet.

It would likely be prudent to seek professional legal advice if you have been:

  • fired for absenteeism;
  • told that you’ve abandoned your position by not showing up for work;
  • told to return to work by a certain date or you’ll be deemed to have resigned;
  • denied disability benefits;
  • denied WSIB benefits; or
  • denied any other entitlement.

The professional, experienced and cost-effective employment lawyers for employees at Ottawa's Kelly Santini LLP would be happy to be of service to you.

Takeaways for Employers with Labour Pains

For employers it is important to remember that employees often have appeal rights and the ability to challenge the opinions of doctors. If one of your employees is absent from work and the only information you have about their ability to work is information provided by an insurance company, you might be prudent to seek your own medical opinion on the situation before acting.

Navigating employees who are absent from work for medical reasons is complicated and can be frustrating. Getting it wrong can be incredibly costly.

If you have an employee who is absent from work and you question the legitimacy of his or her absence, it may be prudent to seek professional legal advice before acting.

The professional, experienced and cost-effective employment lawyers for employers at Ottawa's Kelly Santini LLP would be happy to be of service to your business or organization.

Contact Me

To reach the author of this blog, Sean Bawden, email or call 613.238.6321 x260. You may also use the contact box at the top of this page.

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As always, everyone’s situation is different. The above is not intended to be legal advice for any particular situation. It is always prudent to seek professional legal advice before making any decisions with respect to your own case.

Sean Bawden, publisher of Labour Pains, can be reached by email at or by phone at 613.238.6321.

Sean P. Bawden is an Ottawa, Ontario employment lawyer and wrongful dismissal lawyer practicing with Kelly Santini LLP. He is also a part-time professor at Algonquin College teaching Trial Advocacy for Paralegals and Small Claims Court Practice.

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