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Frequently Asked Questions

Why won't the union pay for my legal counsel? Give me legal counsel?


Members are barred from bringing any action, in respect of to their employment, before the courts. The courts do not have jurisdiction over labour relations matters in a unionized setting. Issues must be resolved, by the parties to a Collective Agreement, using the prescribed remedial devices contained therein.

What are the roles and responsibilities of the PSAC versus the roles and responsibilities of the National Component?


This is a fairly complex question and is best answered in parts.

Table I, attempts to illustrate the division of roles and responsibilities between the PSAC and the National Component. Those roles and responsibilities, that are covered under the PSAC mandate, are listed in the first column while the second column provides the National Component listing of same.

Table I
Division of Roles and Responsibilities
Between the PSAC and the National Component
PSAC Responsibilities National Component
Collective bargaining Soliciting of bargaining demands and mobilization
Organizing Communication to support organizing activities
Classification grievances Classifications not already covered in the collective agreements
Adjudication of grievances Appeals and grievances other than adjudication
Central research Component-specific research
Central printing and distribution Component-specific printing and distribution
Central editorial information and public relations Component-specific editorial information and Public relations
Any service which can be more effectively and economically supplied Publishing newsletters or similar publications
Representation at all levels of government on matters which are not the sole and exclusive responsibility of one component section Representation at all levels of government
Alliance education Component education including Regional Seminars and the Human Rights Conference

Table I is an excellent starting point if you wish to understand the division of responsibilities. However, to get the true picture, there are other roles and responsibilities that must be taken into account.

The PSAC can delegate the following to the National Component:

· Classification Grievances
· Collective Agreement Enforcement

The PSAC can also choose to delegate the following matters to the National Component, where all the members of the bargaining unit are within the Component:

· Alliance Education
· Grievance and Adjudication
· Collective Bargaining

The PSAC is responsible for:

· Area Councils
· Direct Chartered Locals
· Regional Councils
· Regional Committees
· Regional Offices

The National Component can request that PSAC represent a member:

· If it is deemed to be more expedient
· If the case is deemed to be precedent setting

What are the roles and responsibilities of the National Component compared to the Locals?


The respective roles and responsibilities of the National Component, National Executive, Human Rights Committees and Locals can be found in the National Component's By-Laws.

The By-Laws are an excellent guide to better understand what the roles and responsibilities are for the different elected positions in the Component, including the responsibilities of a Local Executive. Locals receive union dues from their membership and are the primary source of information to many members. Locals are encouraged to reflect on the responsibilities outlined and to develop an active plan for their term of office. While the By-Laws can only be changed at a Component Convention every three years, several members of the National Executive sit on the By-Laws Committee and would be available should you have any specific questions.

I recently transmitted my grievance, to the final level in the grievance procedure, in my organization. My grievance file was subsequently sent to the National Component office in Ottawa requesting representation. How is the Service Officer chosen and who will be assigned to represent me?


The National Component Service Officer, assigned to your Employer Group, will represent the grievor. Where circumstances warrant, such as vacation, illness etc., an alternate Service Officer will be assigned. A letter or e-mail from the assigned Service Officer, acknowledging receipt of your grievance and requesting any supporting documentation, will be sent to you.

I have read my collective agreement and I am familiar with the time limits, for consultation and reply, at the final level of the grievance procedure in my organization. My Local has sent the National Component my grievance file. The Component office has also acknowledged receiving it, and I have arranged to discuss my case, with the assigned Service Officer, later this week. What happens now to my grievance?


The Service Officer assigned will review your grievance, and, in particular:

  • The grievance wording and Corrective Action Requested
  • The grievance replies sent to you by lower level employer representatives
  • Your completed Steward Fact Sheet which should have accompanied your grievance file
  • The arguments advanced, with the employer, in support of the case at the lower levels
  • The timeliness of your grievance and final level transmittal
  • Confirm that all necessary documentation is on your file, or if some documents are missing, advise you which ones are needed before your grievance can be heard at the final level
  • When the grievance file is complete, advise you that final level consultation will be requested with the employer representative and of the approximate time frame involved in your case
  • After the hearing has been scheduled, advise you of the time, date and location of your final level hearing and the last date for consultation and reply by your Employer
  • In advance of the final level hearing, will work with the grievor and/or Local Union Representative with the Service Officer, to ensure that the final level grievance presentation is accurate and complete.
I am concerned that my rights as an employee have been violated. My coworkers are getting promotions through closed competitions and the reclassification of their positions. However, I am not being promoted even though I deserve a promotion too. What should I do?


You should apply on closed competitions and compete for other positions which interest you.

It is also possible that your job description might not recognize all your assigned duties. Your job description might not be properly classified at its current group and level. You should familiarize yourself with the Statement of Duties article of your collective agreement and discuss your rights with your Local PSAC Representative.

NOTE: Information on job content grievances, classification grievances and denial of acting pay grievances is available on the PSAC's website. The time limits, for the filing these types of grievances, is of critical importance.

I filed a grievance and went on sick leave without pay, for an indefinite period - over a year ago. My Employer has agreed by mutual consent to put and keep my grievance in abeyance until I receive medical clearance to return to work. I am concerned because I don't want anyone to forget about my grievance. I can't deal with my grievance now that I am on approved sick leave. Should I be doing anything?


There is no problem with putting your grievance in abeyance, by mutual consent, in these circumstances. Make sure that you get confirmation, in writing, from your Employer and Local Union Representative about putting, and keeping, your grievance in abeyance. The confirmation letter should cover the time period your grievance will be in abeyance and the circumstances under which it is to be eventually scheduled for a grievance hearing. A griever on sick leave cannot be expected to make informed decisions about their grievance. It is unfair to ask them to do so before they receive medical clearance to return to work.

Why does a grievance take so long to process?


The grievance process must follow a pre-determined path to resolution. Sometimes there is difficulty in getting collaboration amongst the players, at the various stages. Examples include grievors/employers who do not provide required documentation, Service Officers' schedules, the availability of the employers' representative etc.

I don't have a copy of the new collective agreement, where can I get one?  


The employer is charged with this responsibility. Check with your Human Resources Department. Copies should be available for every employee when a new collective agreement is signed and printed.

If you are a Treasury Board employee a copy is also available electronically on the Treasury Board website.

I'm not sure what the Duty to Accommodate entails and how it's applied. Can you help shed some light on this issue?  


All employers, whether provincially or federally regulated, are subject to the duty to accommodate which flows from applicable human rights legislation. Both the provincial and federal human rights statutes exempt discriminatory conduct that is based on a bona fide occupational qualification/requirement.

"Disability" is broadly defined in human rights legislation, in respect to both what conditions constitute a disability and who can claim protection against disability discrimination. The definition protects individuals who now have, or used to have, a disability. Finally, the definition has been interpreted to cover not only an actual, but also a perceived, disability.

A "disability" for accommodation purposes may be temporary, long lasting or permanent. It may be an actual disability, or only one that is perceived as such in the eyes of others, or even an impairment that one used to have. While most disabilities are beyond an employee's control, the impairment may have a quasi-voluntary aspect to it, such as alcoholism or drug addiction. Not every absence from work for a medical reason constitutes a physical disability within the meaning of human rights legislation. The condition must entail a certain measure of severity, permanence and persistence.

The duty to accommodate extends beyond persons with disabilities, and includes grounds such as race or colour, religion or creed, age, sex, marital status, physical or mental handicap or disability, sexual orientation, national or ethnic origin, family status, alcohol or drug dependency, ancestral origin or place of origin.

For example an employer has the obligation to accommodate a pregnant employee who is unable, as a result of the pregnancy, to do the full duties of her job by looking at modified work opportunities to the point of undue hardship. However, the employee is not entitled to any greater benefit because the modification arises as a result of pregnancy.
Employees with substance dependencies cannot often be accommodated simply by altering their job duties or providing assistive devices. Instead, these employees may be accommodated by more leniency with respect to lateness, absences and leaves of absence.

Determining the boundaries of accommodation requires more from the employer than simply investigating whether any existing job might be suitable for a disabled employee. Rather, the law requires the employer to determine whether existing positions can be adjusted, adapted or modified for the employee; and if not, whether there are other positions in the workplace that might be suitable for the employee.

The term "undue hardship" refers to the legal standard used to measure whether the failure to provide an accommodation is justifiable in a given set of circumstances. The financial consequences of accommodation vary infinitely. What may be eminently reasonable in prosperous times may pose an undue hardship for an employer in times of economic restraint or recession.

The employer's duty to accommodate includes seeing if the employee can continue to perform in their present job with some changes in duties or modifications to those duties with aid devices. If this is not possible, then the employer should look to see if there are any other types of jobs that the employee can do. The employer should first try to find another position within the bargaining unit. If impossible, then the employer should consider positions outside of the bargaining unit which could also mean relaxing a clause in the collective agreement to accommodate the employee. The employee does not enjoy the right nor does it compel the employer to displace another employee from their position in order to accommodate the other employee.

The jurisprudence suggests that the employer is not obliged to accommodate to the extent of assigning unproductive work or a redundant job to an employee.

In safety-sensitive positions, employers will be given greater latitude if they refuse to accommodate an employee because of the risk of relapse, provided there is a basis for this conclusion.

While the employer has a duty to accommodate, so does the Union and the employee seeking accommodation. The Union's role is to assist and cooperate in the implementation of the accommodation and to not unduly interfere.

Where an employee has a tenable claim of disability, the Local will normally support that employee's request for accommodation. The Local should urge employers to keep an open mind about what constitutes a "disability" and ensure that resistance to the diagnosis of "disability" is not based on concerns about the cost of accommodation.

Where the feasibility of accommodation is in dispute at arbitration, it is the responsibility of the Union to present the arbitrator with evidence of accommodation options that could have been employed and that would not have posed an undue hardship.

A leading case in Human Rights is the Meiorin decision. The importance of this decision is that it widens the employer's and Union's responsibilities so as to ensure that all of the employer's practices, policies and procedures do not discriminate or present barriers for employees.

The Meiorin decision also established three steps to determine whether or not the occupational requirement is a justified job requirement or not:

  1. Did the employer adopt a standard that is rationally linked to the execution of the work in question?
  2. Did the employer adopt a standard in which they sincerely believe that it was necessary to legitimately process this work?
  3. Is the standard reasonably necessary linked to be able to do this work?

How can Locals and members be proactive/assist members seeking accommodation under the Duty to Accommodate?

  • Have an active workplace health & safety that reviews policies and procedures of the employer to ensure that they are barrier free.
  • Have an active employment equity committee & actively involve this committee in reviewing policies and procedures of the employer to ensure that they are barrier free.
What is Harassment and what steps can I take if I feel harassed?


Harassment can be defined as any improper conduct directed at someone, that the person finds offensive and harmful, that a reasonable person would view as unwelcome or offensive. It includes improper acts or omissions which result in interference, restriction, coercion, intimidation or any disciplinary action which prejudice an employee's job security, undermine an employee's job performance or creates a negative psychological or emotional state for an employee. Harassment need not be intentional.

It includes harassment prohibited by the Canadian Human Rights Act, which consists of harassment related to race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and pardoned conviction. It is generally about abuse of power, it is always about control and is a form of violence. Intentional or not, it can result in the complainant's loss of dignity if allowed to continue.

The proper exercise of managerial and supervisory rights and responsibilities is not harassment.

Some examples of harassment, include:

  • Serious or repeated offensive remarks or misrepresentations which degrade and humiliate
  • Displaying or sending sexist, racist or other offensive pictures, posters or e mails
  • Sexual harassment, such as unwelcome social invitations with sexual overtones or flirting
  • Threats, intimidation or retaliation
  • Unnecessary Increased workload
  • Unnecessary Reduced Responsibilities
What To Do If You Feel Harassed:
  1. Make your disapproval or unease known as soon as possible. If you tell the person yourself or have a supervisor, colleague or Union representative communicate your complaint verbally, always follow up in writing to confirm your informal complaint and the agreed-to resolution. This begins your documentation if necessary and may serve to deter further harassment, particularly when the offence was unintentional.
    • The longer the inappropriate/wrongful behaviour continues, the odds increase to creating a poisoned work environment, putting your psychological and physical well-being at risk - and your ability to continue working within that environment.
  2. If the behaviour continues, contact your Union representative.
  3. Discuss the incidents, confirm whether the behaviour constitutes harassment - discuss potential solutions to the identified problems. If there is someone competent employed within your workplace who is trained in the techniques of Alternative Dispute Resolute (ADR), you may also include them in your discussions.
  4. Always maintain time lines for filing a grievance. Harassment which is ongoing permits the filing of the grievance within the time lines set out in the collective agreement - within the required days from the last incident.
  5. Whether or not the behaviour constitutes harassment and involves a person in authority, then the Union representative can initiate an informal process to resolve the issue.
  6. If the actions constitute harassment but involve a colleague without authority over you, attempt to settle the matter with another party present, usually another colleague or a harassment prevention officer, or someone trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution. If a Union representative attends this discussion, they must ensure the alleged harasser (if unionized) is provided with separate representation if a complaint proceeds.
  7. Create a diary to document the incidents and the dates on which they occurred if the harassment continues after one or two incidents.
  8. Always try to secure witnesses to the incidents.
  9. Always maintain evidence, such as any correspondence, written reports, minutes of meetings, draft evaluationsetc. related to the harassment.
  10. If the harassment continues after the informal process of informing the person in question, take the next step to formalize the complaint.

      (A) Check the employer's Harassment Policy (if it exists) to determine whether a grievance may be filed at the same time.
      If you are employed with Treasury Board, harassment complaints cannot proceed to adjudication at this time The Treasury Board Policy on the Prevention and Resolution of Harassment in the workplace is available at http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pubs_pol/hrpubs/hw-hmt/siglist_e.asp
      If you are not employed with Treasury Board, review your collective agreement and the harassment policy. If you can file a grievance simultaneously with the complaint under the employer's policy, file the grievance and have it held in abeyance until the complaint process is complete.

      (B) If harassment is based on one of the grounds of discrimination prohibited under the Canadian Human Rights Act, employees have the right to file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, generally up to 1 year after the incident. http://www.chrc-ccdp.ca/publications/the_complaint-en.asp

    If a complaint on the same issue is or has been dealt with through one of the avenues of recourse, you generally cannot proceed with the same complaint in another forum. For example, if your complaint is resolved through the grievance process, the complaint process under the employer's harassment policies will not proceed.

      (C) Assaults including sexual assault are covered by the Criminal Code and in such cases the police should be contacted.

    Mediation is a voluntary process used to resolve conflict by having a neutral person help the disputing parties arrive at a mutually acceptable solution and generally can be requested at any time, while the complaint/grievance process is h http://www.chrc ccdp.ca/publications/Complaint_Plaintes_index.asp?l=eeld in abeyance. Under an agreement with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, the Public Service Commission will act as an expert resource body by developing programs and providing services to departments in the prevention and resolution of harassment in the workplace, in such areas as training, mediation and investigation.
How do I contact the PSAC Life Insurance?


Group Life Insurance coverage is available for all qualifying members and their immediate families. For information and/or application call Coughlin and Associates, PSAC Insurance Trust, P.O. Box 3518, Station C, Ottawa, Ontario K1Y 4H5, telephone (613) 231-2266.

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