Grievances Faq

Broadly speaking, a grievance can be defined as an official statement which contests something believed to be wrong or unfair. Within the context of the Public Service, a grievance can be understood to be a formal contestation of the treatment of an Employee by the Employer or any action or lack of action by the Employer pertaining to any of the following:

  • The interpretation or application, in respect of the Employee, of a provision of a statute or regulation, or of a direction or other instrument made or issued by the Employer, which deals with terms and conditions of employment.
  • The interpretation or application, in respect of the Employee, of a provision of a collective agreement or an arbitral award.
  • Any occurrence or matter affecting the terms and conditions of employment of the Employee.

While each member concern is important, an individual concern may or may not constitute a valid grievance.

While Employees often raise complaints verbally, a formal grievance must be in writing. A verbal complaint is effectively an informal stage of the grievance process that is recommended prior to the presentation of a written grievance.

Members are encouraged to discuss their concern with their management/supervisor as soon as possible and in a calm and professional manner. It is strongly recommended that the discussion take place in the presence and with the assistance of a Warden or, if there is no Warden available, a co-worker that the member feels comfortable accompanying them. Often a direct dialogue can prove effective in resolving a concern.

It is important to write down the key points of the conversation, the date the conversation took place and the names of the people involved.

In emotional situations, members need to take the time to regain their composure before entering into a dialogue with management. Misplaced emotions or personal conflicts are often seen as a barrier to objective discussions. In such cases, it is recommended that the member involve a PAFSO representative to act on his/her behalf. The PAFSO representative represents the member’s interests and because he/she is not personally involved, he/she is more able to be objective and facilitate communication with the Employer.

It is important to note that while member concerns pertaining to a competition and/or appointment process cannot be grieved, there is a separate Staffing Complaint process in place.

There are three (3) main types of grievances in the Public Service:

  • Staff Relations – pertaining to individual, group or policy concerns
  • National Joint Council – pertaining to the Employer’s application of the NJC Directives
  • Classification – pertaining to position classifications

1. Staff Relations’ Grievances

There are 3 types of staff relations’ grievances which are categorized as follows:

Individual Grievances

An individual member may, either on their own or with the support and/or representation provided by PAFSO, present an individual grievance pertaining to any occurrence or matter affecting their terms and conditions of employment. While members may, if they choose to, grieve some types of concerns on their own (such as termination and demotion), any grievance pertaining to the Collective Agreement requires both PAFSO’s support and involvement.

As state above, while each member complaint is important, an individual complaint may or may not constitute a valid grievance – PAFSO’s involvement with each ‘Individual Staff Relations’ grievance is subject to PAFSO’s assessment of the merit of the grievance.

Group Grievances

Employees may file a group grievance with the Employer if they feel aggrieved by the interpretation or application, common in respect of those Employees, of a provision of the collective agreement or an arbitral award. A group grievance is simply an individual grievance presented by many indiviauls. As stated above, any grievance pertaining to the Collective Agreement requires both PAFSO’s support and involvement.

Policy Grievance

A policy grievance is a complaint made by PAFSO that an action of the Employer (or its failure or refusal to act) is a violation of the Collective Agreement that could affect all who are covered by the agreement. A member may not file a policy grievance without PAFSO’s approval and representation.

2. National Joint Council Grievances

National Joint Council (NJC) grievances are grievances that pertain to the Employer’s application of the NJC Directives. The Foreign Service Directives (FSDs) are just 1 of 11 sets of directives currently published by the NJC. The NJC grievance process is designed to discover whether an Employee has been treated within the intent of a directive.

NJC grievances filed by PAFSO members must be supported by PAFSO. A PAFSO Labour Relations Advisor will provide representation before an NJC Committee.

3. Classification Grievances

Some members may feel that their position is not properly classified by the Employer. Unfortunately there is no process in place to file a grievance pertaining to a classification unless the grievor is the incumbent in the position at the time when the position was either classified or reclassified and the grievance was filed within 35 working days from date that the position was classified (or reclassified).

However, members who are not in the position outlined above may file a ‘Statement of Duty Grievance’ (sometimes called a job content grievance). A statement of duty grievance can be filed when an Employee determines that their job description is inaccurate. The benefit of filing a statement of duty grievance is that if it is successful, the Employer must both update the job description and determine if what is presented as new information in the statement of duties should lead to a reclassification of the position.

If a member determines that their existing statement of duties (job description) is accurate, the Employer will not engage in any classification exercise for that position. It only engages in a classification exercise if there changes. If a member determines that their existing statement of duties (job description) is inaccurate, while a successful statement of duties grievances will ‘trigger’ a process whereby the Employer determines if the position should be reclassified, there is no guarantee that the position will be reclassified.

While any Canadian Federal Public Service Employee can file certain types of Individual and Group Staff Relations grievances, Classification grievances or Statement of Duties grievances with or without the support of their bargaining agent, all other types of grievances (Individual and Group Staff Relations grievances pertaining to the collective agreement, Policy Staff Relations, National Joint Council) require the support and involvement the designated bargaining agent. PAFSO is the bargaining agent for Public Service Employees within the FS classification group.

While members are permitted to file certain types of grievances (Individual Staff Relations, Classification, Statement of Duties) on their own, PAFSO recommends that if an informal conversation with a supervisor does not resolve a complaint or concern, the member’s next step should be to discuss (either via telephone or email) their complaint with a PAFSO Labour Relations advisor. A PAFSO Labour Relations Advisor can assess the merits of a grievance and answer any questions pertaining to the process. If a decision is made to file the grievance, a PAFSO Labour Relations Advisor can assist with wording ,filing and representation at the various levels.

While a grievance can be submitted to the  Employer as simply written statement (hard copy or electronic), Treasury Board does publish a selection of forms pertaining to certain types of grievances.

There are different processes for different types of grievances.

Individual and Group Staff Relations Grievances

Once the Grievance Form is submitted and signed by the manager and returned to the PAFSO representative and/or member, the grievance hearing can be scheduled with the manager authorized to hear grievances. The grievance hearing outlines the facts of the grievance identifying the issue, its background, any information supporting the grievance as well as the corrective action being sought.

Individual and Group Staff Relations Grievances can involve up to four levels (individual government departments may have between 2-4 levels). Each level involves a hearing. If the reply (decision) at any level is not satisfactory to the grievor or if management has not responded within the required time limit, the grievance should be transmitted to the next level by using a transmittal form. Transmittal forms are published by the Treasury Board.

Statement of Duty grievances, while closely related to the Classification Grievance process, fall under the category of Individual Staff Relations grievances and involve the same process.

Policy Staff Relations Grievances

A Staff Relations Policy Grievance is a one-level grievance. PAFSO presents this grievance before the Treasury Board Secretariat.

National Joint Council Grievances

The NJC procedure involves three steps (levels), regardless of the department or agency of the grievor. The third step and final level decision of the procedure is the NJC Executive Committee. The Executive Committee consists of three Employer-side members and three Bargaining-Agent-side members. Grievances are decided on the basis of the intent of the directive or policy concerned and are not decided by strict consideration of the wording of the directive or policy.

Classification Grievances

Classification grievances are filed on the same forms and in the same manner as Staff Relations’ grievances; however, they are treated quite differently after that point. The Classification Grievance Procedure provides a one-step process whereby the grievances proceed immediately to the final level. A three-member management committee reviews the case, hears representations by the grievor’s representative and/or management, and recommends a classification level to the Deputy Minister’s nominee.

PAFSO may provide representation at a classification hearing if, on a review of the merits of the case, it is decided that grounds exist to proceed.

A grievor may withdraw a grievance at any time during the grievance procedure. The withdrawal must be in writing and submitted to the immediate supervisor.

If a grievor is unsatisfied with the outcome of a final-level grievance hearing and would like to pursue the matter further, it may be possible to refer the matter to adjudication before the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board (PSLREB). Adjudication involves a third-party decision-maker resolving a dispute after considering the law as well as the evidence and arguments of the grievor and Employer. Only certain types of grievances may proceed to adjudication.

Staff Relations Adjudication

It is possible to refer only specific types of Staff Relations grievances to adjudication before the PSLREB. In the case of an Individual grievance, if at the end of the departmental or agency internal grievance procedure, the grievance has not been resolved to the Employee’s satisfaction, the Employee may refer the grievance to adjudication before the PSLREB if the grievance relates to:

  • the interpretation or application in respect of the grievor of a provision of the Collective Agreement or a related arbitral award; or
  • disciplinary action resulting in suspension or a financial penalty; or
  • termination of employment or demotion pursuant to paragraph 12(1)(c), (d) or (e) of the Financial Administration Act,

Group and Policy grievances may also be referred to adjudication before the PSLREB.

National Joint Council Adjudication

If a NJC grievance is not resolved through the NJC process, the Employee, with the agreement and support of his/her bargaining agent (PAFSO for the FS classification group), may proceed to adjudication before the PSLREB.

Classification Grievances

By virtue of legislation, the Employer has total control over the classification process, including the classification grievance process. The Classification Grievance Procedure has been developed by the Employer and is, therefore, not resolvable by third parties such as an adjudicator. Although the member and bargaining agent may not be pleased with the Employer’s decision, the decision is final and binding (and not adjudicable). In rare cases, an Employer decision pertaining to classification may be brought before the Federal Court.

Staff Relations Grievances
 Days PermittedTotal Days
Employee becomes aware of matter that is ultimately grieved00
Employee presents grievance to immediate supervisor2525
First level hearing takes place and employer replies in writing1035
Employee transmits grievance to second level1045
Second level hearing takes place and employer replies in writing1055
Employee transmits grievance to final level1065
Final level hearing takes place and employer replies in writing3095
Employee refers process to adjudication30125
National Joint Council Grievances
 Days PermittedTotal Days
Employee becomes aware of matter that is ultimately grieved00
Employee presents grievance to immediate supervisor2525
First level hearing takes place and employer replies in writing1035
Employee transmits grievance to second level1045
Second level hearing takes place and employer replies in writing1560
Employee transmits grievance to final level1070
Final level hearing takes place and employer replies in writing30100
Employee refers process to adjudication30130

Classification Grievances

A classification grievance must be presented no later than 35 calendar days from the date that the grievor become aware of or is notified orally or in writing that a classification action has been taken affecting the position they occupy.

The Employer must respond to the grievor in writing within 80 working days of the presentation of the grievance. The response will indicate the results of the Committee’s review, indicate the reasons for the decision and provide a detailed rationale for the decision. The decision rendered is final and binding.


It generally takes several years before an adjudication hearing takes place and then several more months for a decision to be issued.

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