It might seem simple, but keeping these rules in mind when deciding to file a grievance can avoid a lot of trouble down the road.
1. Too specific
A grievance is designed to let the other side know there is a dispute and to ask for a correction. Often, short time-frames are involved. Most of the time, it is not possible to speak with witnesses before drafting and filing a grievance. It is better to describe the problem and the requested solution generally, rather than face an argument later that the grievance does not cover some or all of the real problem.
2. Wrong redress
Every grievance should begin with the words “full redress, including…”. For the same reasons described above, it will not always be obvious what is necessary to fix the problem. Sometimes there will be losses that weren’t anticipated; other times, it will take a special order for the employer to take action in order to fix the problem. No one wants to be in front of an arbitrator facing an argument that what is really needed is not what was asked for in the grievance.
3. The grievance misses the real target
Even though steps 1 and 2 above suggest framing the grievance and request for relief broadly, it is still crucial to understand the real problem and how it fits into the collective agreement. This means speaking with the grievor and understanding how the problem triggers a right under the agreement. This is a final check before filing the grievance. Do a connect-the-dots exercise and imagine how you get from the facts you know to a conclusion by an arbitrator that the real problem involves violation of the agreement. Is it an overtime issue, or a harassment issue, or a human rights issue? Be sure you address the real problem.
4. Timing is everything
Everyone is busy putting out fires. Remember the time limits. Even if it is impossible to investigate a problem, filing a grievance (or getting an extension for filing) can give you some breathing room to investigate or to take care of yesterday’s emergency. If you miss a time limit to file a grievance, there may be ways to fix the problem, but you have to act immediately.
5. A grievance is not a placeholder for action
See 4, above. Once the grievance is filed with the employer, it shouldn’t be stuffed in the pile of paper in the right corner of your desk. Documents need to be preserved. Witnesses must be spoken with; discussions may lead to an early settlement that will be impossible to get weeks or even months later. Even if filing a grievance may give you some breathing room, it doesn’t act like a pause button. The goal is to get the problem fixed, and, if it can’t, to put yourself in the best position to win an arbitration.
The grievance arbitration mechanism in the collective agreement is a powerful tool to resolve workplace conflict. Knowing how to use your tools and doing so with care will often determine whether the job gets done right.
If you have any further questions about filing a grievance, contact our Labour Law Group.