Employer breached OHSA, collective agreement by sharing employee’s medical information with another employer

An arbitrator has decided that an operator of a long term care facility violated both the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the collective agreement by sharing an employee’s medical information with another employer, without the employee’s consent.

The employee was a part-time dietary aid at the long term care facility, St. Patrick’s Home of Ottawa Inc.  After the employee advised that she required an accommodation in her other position at a different long-term care facility due to medical reasons, St. Patrick’s asked her to provide a medical certificate indicating her fitness and ability to do her job.

The other long-term care facility began to question whether the medical restrictions that she was presenting to them were legitimate.  The other long-term care facility then requested certain information about the employee’s employment at St. Patrick’s, including whether she had worked her regularly-scheduled shifts, had requested any workplace accommodations or provided any work-related restrictions.   St. Patrick’s gave the other facility that information, including a medical note that the employee had provided.  St. Patrick’s later acknowledged that information should not have been disclosed without the employee’s consent.

The arbitrator held that St. Patrick’s had violated sections 63(1)(f) and 62(2) of the OHSA:

“Section 63(1)(f) of this Act specifies that no person shall disclose any information obtained in any medical examination except in a form that will prevent the information from being identified with a particular person or case.  The copy of the note that this Employer gave to West End Villa contained medical information from the Grievor’s doctor that clearly identified the Grievor.  Further, section 62(2) of the Act mandates that no employer shall seek to gain access to a health record concerning a worker without the worker’s written consent, except by an order of the court or other tribunal or in order to comply with another statute.  The Grievor gave no consent to the release of the information or note and West End Villa neither requested the note nor had any legal authorization to receive it.  Since West End Villa had no right to seek the Grievor’s health information, this Employer had no right to provide it.  Therefore, the Agreed Facts reveal a clear violation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.”

The arbitrator also found that the disclosure of the information violated the collective agreement in that it constituted “harassment”, which was defined in the collective agreement as, “any behaviour which denies and or undermines individuals’ . . .  dignity and respect, and that is offensive, embarrassing and humiliating to said individual.”  Lastly, the arbitrator held that the disclosure constituted the tort of “intrusion upon seclusion”.

The arbitrator ordered St. Patrick’s to comply with its own confidentiality policy and to pay the employee $1,000.00 in damages.

This case illustrates the increasing importance of privacy – particularly of medical information – in the workplace, and that privacy obligations can come from unexpected places, including the OHSA.

St. Patrick’s Home of Ottawa Inc. v Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 2437, 2016 CanLII 10432 (ON LA)

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Adrian Miedema

About Adrian Miedema

Adrian is a partner in the Toronto Employment group of Dentons Canada LLP. He advises and represents public- and private-sector employers in employment, health and safety and human rights matters. He appears before employment tribunals and all levels of the Ontario courts on behalf of employers. He also advises employers on strategic and risk management considerations in employment policy and contracts.

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