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THE QUESTION

My family doctor has stated that I am unfit to return to work due to a mental illness. Within 72 hours, my employer asked me to surrender all medical records including information on anyone treating me other than my doctor. I have refused to disclose both of these things. I am open to my doctor assessing how I can best be accommodated. In fact, my doctor will have me evaluated by a psychiatrist. However, my employer has said because I have disclosed a mental illness and exhibited concerning behaviours, I cannot return to work unless I provide documentation from a psychiatrist or a psychologist who confirms that I do not pose a threat and am fit to work. My family doctor believes she can satisfy my employer's concerns but they are adamant it must be a psychiatrist or a psychologist. Can my employer compel me to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist?

THE FIRST ANSWER

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Zuleika Sgro

Certified human resources leader, VP Retail, Saje Natural Wellness, Vancouver

Mental illness is an important topic and I celebrate your courage to share your story.

Over all, the most important focus for both you and your employer is your wellness and health.

Employers do have the right to seek a medical opinion and/or request you visit a doctor or registered health practitioner in the event of an insurance or health claim.

The prognosis is information they are seeking, as well as accommodation advice and instructions.

Your benefits provider works with your employer to recommend medical professionals to make such health assessments. Depending on your industry and role, medical assessments and advice may increase, again all in the best interest of your safety and well-being and the team you work and interact with.

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My advice is to work on a plan together with your employer. Be involved in the process so you can both align on the steps forward and feel clear about the process.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Kyle Couch

President and CEO, Spectrum Organizational Development Inc., Toronto

Living with a mental illness is a reality that a large number of workers in Canada face at one time in their lives, if not for their entire lives. Employers have become increasingly aware, and many have included several enhancements to benefits packages to help employees, including treatment coverage and employee-assistance programs.

Furthermore, mental illness is recognized under the Canadian Human Rights Act, which obligates employers to ensure access to meaningful work without discrimination.

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Given your mention of "concerning behaviours" and the fact that you may be away from your work for an extended period of time, your employer may require you to have a psychological assessment so they can file an insurance claim with your provincial Workplace Compensation Board.

The assessment may also help determine the appropriate timeline, and reintegration process, to ensure your returning to work is the best course of action for your own safety as well as that of your co-workers. Once you are able to return to work, your employer has a requirement to attempt to provide suitable work within your functional abilities.

While you do have the right to refuse this assessment, you will not be entitled to disability insurance in the event you are away from your work for an extended period of time.

Your awareness of your condition, as well as your strength to seek out medical assistance, is to be commended. Ensuring you are on the right path to managing your illness will help you in all aspects of your life, not only in your career.

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