In a recent arbitration award, Arbitrator Colin Taylor concluded that a school board may make direct inquiries of teachers who request medical leave in order to determine whether they are capable of reduced, modified or alternative duties. Arbitrator Taylor also endorsed the completion of medical forms as a prerequisite to a teacher receiving sick leave benefits.
The arbitration arose from the proposed requirement for teachers to complete a standard medical form if they were applying for extended and partial medical leave. Under the proposed system, applicants would be required to have their physicians respond to several questions regarding the effect of the illness on their ability to work as well as the course of their medical treatment.
In balancing the privacy interests of teachers with a school board’s need to properly manage a sick leave program and accommodate sick or disabled teachers, the arbitrator held that many of the questions on the forms were permissible; however, he also ordered some of the questions to be modified or eliminated.
Among other questions, the medical form requested information regarding a teacher’s restrictions in areas such as sitting, standing, reading or writing. The employer argued such inquiries were justified in order to enable school districts to assess whether the applicant could be offered other duties. Arbitrator Taylor concluded that these questions were not properly included on the routine form. However, he also commented that if a physician’s responses to the other questions did not satisfy the employer’s legitimate interests in managing its sick leave program and accommodating sick or disabled teachers, it would be appropriate to meet with the teacher directly to determine whether the teacher was capable of reduced, modified or alternative duties.