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Queen's University
 

Hill v University of Waterloo (2009) CHRR HRTO 1231.

When does a University have the right to question an employee’s request for accommodation based on employee’s medical note? 

Facts:

The applicant was a plumber in the Plant department of the University of Waterloo who had a stress-related disability.  In his application to the HRTO, he claimed that he experienced discrimination in the workplace based on this disability.  More specifically, from 2001 to 2004, he was overlooked for promotion, transferred to a different area, demoted from a lead hand position, refused overtime pay, accused of falsifying his time sheet, refused recourse to a grievance. He also claimed that the employer breached his human rights when it questioned a doctor’s note requesting accommodation in the form of “intermittent time off” over a period of 8 weeks so that he did not have to return to the doctor’s office every single time he needed time off due to disability.  The employer did not have the right, he argued, to require him to provide further medical information or clarification of the accommodation request.

The applicant called four witnesses to testify on his behalf. The witnesses painted a negative picture of the applicant, who challenged and disregarded university policies and practices. For example, one stated employees were required to provide a medical note for every absence due to sickness.   

Issues

  1. Did the employee’s accommodation request (intermittent time off) comply with University practice?
  2. Did the employer have the right to question the employee’s doctor’s note?
  3. Did the employee suffer any differential treatment in the workplace attributable to disability>

Decisions

  1. No
  2. Yes
  3. No

Reasoning:

  1. The University’s practice was to demand a medical note for every absence. The applicant’s attempt to side-step this requirement was an infraction of that practice.
  2. The Employer has the right to demand clarification of doctor’s notes which are vague and unreasonable.  The term “intermittent” could be interpreted as second hour throughout the day, every second day, every second week?  Such a vague and infinitely interpretable accommodation request was unreasonable and the employer had the right to challenge it.  
  3.  The Tribunal acknowledged that the applicant found the University’s policies, practices and actions t be unfair. However, he failed to provide evidence that any of those elements discriminated against him on the ground of mental disability. Any employer in similar circumstances would experience the same kind of treatment.

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000