What is Classification?
All civilian employees’Footnote 1 positions in the public service are classified in a way that is intended to reflect their relative value accurately and consistently. Positions that have similar characteristics form occupational groups. Levels of compensation within these groups depend on factors such as intellectual or physical effort, sustained attention, essential knowledge, responsibility for money or other assets, or working conditions including possible health risks.
Classification is not based on an individual’s performance. Rather, it results from a detailed analysis of what it takes to do a job properly as well as how this compares with the characteristics of other public service positions. In this way, the classification system can contribute to achieving fairness in compensation for people who do work of similar overall value.
Who can classify a position?
The Treasury Board, as a Cabinet committee of the Queen’s Privy Council of Canada, is formally the employer of the Government of Canada’s core public administration. The Treasury Board authorizes “deputy heads”—usually the Deputy Ministers of departments and agencies—to classify positions in their organizations in accordance with its Directive on Classification.
The Directive outlines how deputy heads must carry out classification activities. They may sub-delegate their classification authority to employees within their organizations such as managers who have been trained in classification or to accredited human resources advisors.
At the Department of National Defence (DND), the Directorate of Civilian Classification and Organization is delegated the authority to manage classification. It provides advice and guidance to managers on classification, organizational design, and administers grievances about classification decisions.
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When does a classification change?
A position’s classification can only change when there has been a significant and permanent change in its main functions. If the work being done is significantly different from what is described in the last evaluated job description, the job description needs to be reviewed and amended by the manager.
How are positions classified?
Classifying a position means answering two basic questions:
- What is the work being done? The manager to whom the position reports is required to describe the work being done. He or she either writes a unique job description, or selects a similar or generic job description from elsewhere in the department.
- How does that work fit within the organization? Once the job description is selected or written, the next step is to understand where the position fits within the organization as well as the department as a whole. This is an important factor in determining the relative value of a position within the organization. For example, an Advisor position reporting to an Assistant Deputy Minister would have greater relative value than the same position reporting to a Director.
The answers to these questions are submitted to the Directorate of Civilian Classification and Organization, and assigned to an accredited Classification Officer for job evaluation.
For unique positions, the job evaluation involves assessing work against a Job Evaluation Standard (also known as a Classification Standard). These documents are established by the Treasury Board, and are used throughout the public service to ensure consistency in job evaluation. Job Evaluation Standards can be found here.Footnote 2 During the job evaluation, the Classification Officer first determines the position’s occupational group—jobs that have roughly the same function (e.g. administrative services or “AS”). The job description is then compared against the Classification Standard for the occupational group, to determine its level within that group (e.g. AS-03). A written rationale is produced, justifying the occupational group and level. This constitutes the classification decision.
A classification committee may be required to review the decision, including in situations where a reclassification is proposed or when the job description applies to multiple positions.
In cases where the manager selects a standardized job description, the Classification Officer assesses the work against the organizational context and the applicable Classification Standard to ensure that the selected job description is appropriate within the organization. Departments are required to develop and implement standardized job descriptions wherever possible, with unique job descriptions to be prepared only on an exceptional basis. To learn more about standardized job descriptions, click here.
Employees who are not satisfied with a classification decision for the position they occupy can submit a classification grievance. This is distinct from a labour relations grievance, and is handled differently. To learn more about classification grievances, click here.
Cyclical Job Description Reviews
Treasury Board Secretariat requires organizations to review each job description within a reasonable time frame (preferably every five years). To learn more click here.
Standardized Job Descriptions
Historically, the majority of Public Service positions have had their own unique job description. In almost every case, this meant a lengthy process of writing a job description and the requirement to have it classified.
More recently, there has been a shift toward using the same job description for more than one position. As this practice evolved, a number of terms were used to describe it, including: collective work descriptions, generic work descriptions, and standardized job descriptions.
On 1 July 2015, Treasury Board Secretariat issued a new Directive on Classification, which places greater emphasis upon the use of standardized job descriptions in the Public Service. In fact, the Directive states that managers are responsible for implementing appropriate standardized job descriptions, wherever possible.
Standardized job descriptions are similar to other job descriptions; however, they are designed to encompass a large number of positions where employees carry out the same work in the same organizational context but in different parts of a department.
Within the Department of National Defence (DND), the Directorate of Civilian Classification and Organization evaluates the use and appropriateness of standardized job descriptions as well as ensures that job descriptions remain current. Managers are still required to regularly review standardized job descriptions linked to positions under their purview to ensure they match the work performed by their employees.Footnote 3
The Department has committed to increasing the use and number of standardized job descriptions. There are approximately 36,000 civilian positions in the DND. Currently, there are over 600 standardized job description types. Standardized job descriptions can be found in the departmental Civilian Job Library on the Defence Wide Area Network.Footnote 4
For the status on the administration of civilian classification and standardized job descriptions, review our office’s report Positions over People: An investigation into delays in the administration of civilian classification at the Department of National Defence.
On 1 July 2015, the Treasury Board Secretariat issued a new Directive on Classification, which states that organizations must ensure “job descriptions are reviewed within a reasonable time frame (preferably in five-year cycles).”
At the Department of National Defence (DND), managers are required to verify that job descriptions under their purview are up-to-date on three occasions: “a) prior to any staffing action; b) when there is a change in duties or in reporting relationship; and c) at a minimum once every 5 years as long as the position is occupied.”Footnote 5
The Directorate of Civilian Classification and Organization (DCCO) monitors job descriptions through the Human Resources Management System (HRMS). It also produces status reports that are provided to senior management on a regular basis. Using these reports, managers are expected to prioritize job description reviews and, where appropriate, use standardized job descriptions.
In July 2017, the DCCO launched a Three-Year Cyclical Plan. The Plan involves direct engagement with each departmental organization within DND to review their organizational structure on a recurring basis. The goal is to ensure that all positions in the department have their job descriptions reviewed within the Treasury Board Secretariat suggested five-year timeframe. The first three-year cycle is scheduled to take place over the course of 2017-2020.Footnote 6
As part of the Three-Year Cyclical Plan, DCCO discusses the mission, and mandate and reviews the organizational structure of each departmental organization. In doing so, they confirm and update data in the HRMS, identify the positions requiring cyclical job description reviews, and consult with managers to highlight vacant positions that should be abolished. They also map positions to new or existing standardized job descriptions. The intent is to have 90 per cent of positions mapped to a standardized job description by the end of the first review cycle.Footnote 7
Why Did the Ombudsman’s Office Investigate Cyclical Job Description Reviews?
Over the past several years, delays in the cyclical review of civilian job descriptions have been raised as a concern by civilian employees during this office’s outreach visits. Many job descriptions are reported as being out-of-date or as not reflecting the reality of the work being performed.
Additionally, since 2011, this office undertook several internal reviews of the classification grievance process. In 2016, our review uncovered other interrelated and systemic areas of concern within the classification program, including outdated job descriptions. In June 2016, approximately 59 per cent of job descriptions were overdue for their cyclical review. This increased in August 2018 with approximately 68 per cent overdue for their cyclical review.
How Can the Ombudsman’s Office Help?
If you are a civilian employee and you feel that your job description does not reflect the work assigned to you or the duties you perform, the first step is for you to engage your supervisor in a discussion about your job description. If you have additional questions or concerns or would simply like more information, please contact the Office of the Ombudsman.
If you are a civilian or military manager and you are looking for information on your roles and responsibilities relating to the administration of civilian classification, please review our helpful information product Manager’s Responsibilities. You can also contact DCCO for further guidance.
For more information on the administration of civilian classification and cyclical job description reviews, see our office’s report Positions over People: An investigation into delays in the administration of civilian classification at the Department of National Defence.
As it relates to the administration of classification within the Department of National Defence (DND), managers are responsible for:
- Establishing job descriptions for positions within their area of responsibility in three specific instances:
- prior to any staffing action;
- when there is a change in duties or in reporting relationship; or
- at a minimum once every five-years as long as the position is occupied.
- Ensuring that employees are formally notified in writing of classification decisions affecting positions that they occupy;
- Ensuring that job descriptions remain up to date through cyclical review;
- Initiating classification requests when required; and
- Sending classification grievances to the Directorate Civilian Classification and Organization (DCCO).
As per CANFORGEN 068/17, Classification Renewal, DND managers with delegation to approve job descriptions and organizational charts must complete the Introduction to Organization and Job Classification (P930) course. This course provides a common understanding of organizational design and classification concepts for managers.
As acknowledged by CANFORGEN 146/18, [Canadian Armed Forces] Access to Canada School of Public Service Learning Products and Services, members of the Canadian Armed Forces could not access courses offered by the Canada School of Public Service, including Introduction to Organization and Job Classification (P930), until recently. However, the Introduction to Organization and Job Classification (P930) course was available to military managers through the Defence Learning Network.
For more information on the administration of civilian classification, review our office’s report entitled Positions over People: An investigation into delays in the administration of civilian classification at the Department of National Defence.
There are several recourse and complaint mechanisms available to employees who have concerns about the classification of their position or related classification action issues:
- Civilian employees can discuss their concerns with their manager or Chain of Command.
- Represented employees can contact their bargaining agent (union representative).
- Employees can file a grievance.
Employees who are unable to resolve their concerns through these avenues can contact the Office of the Ombudsman.
Labour Relations Grievances
Employees who feel that their job description does not accurately reflect their assigned duties can file a labour relations grievance. The time limit to submit a labour relations grievance is determined by the employee’s collective agreement. The outcome of a labour relations grievance may result in a job description being sent to the Directorate Civilian Classification and Organization for review.
For more information on labour relations grievances, review your collective agreement and the Defence Administrative Orders and Directives 5026-0, Civilian Grievances.
As opposed to a labour relations grievance, a classification grievance is filed when an employee objects to a classification decision for their position. For more information on classification grievances, please review our helpful information product Classification Grievances.
What is a classification grievance?
A classification grievance is a formal written complaint filed by a civilian employee in objection to a classification decision made on the position the employee holds. It is important to note that a classification grievance is not submitted when an employee believes the content of their job description is incorrect. This would be a labour relations issue. Classification grievances are processed separately from labour relations grievances, as per the Treasury Board Secretariat Directive on Classification Grievances.
What is the Ombudsman’s Office Involvement with Classification Grievances?
In 2011, after receiving many complaints about delays in classification grievances, the Office of the Ombudsman began monitoring the issue. In his 2012-2013 Annual Report, the Ombudsman noted that there were approximately 250 grievances awaiting a hearing, and that none had been completed within the prescribed 80-day time limit.
From 2013 to 2015, the Ombudsman continued to monitor the situation and his staff met with a number of senior officials. DND committed to improving the process, including hiring classification consultants, scheduling more grievance hearings, and instituting a classification transformation program. In 2015, the number of active classification grievances was reduced to 154.
On 1 July 2015, the Treasury Board Secretariat issued a new Directive on Classification Grievances that places greater emphasis on accountability and compliance. Even with this new Directive, the Office of the Ombudsman continued to receive complaints about lengthy classification grievance delays. These delays continue to have a real and lasting impact on DND civilian employees.
On 28 June 2016, the Ombudsman sent a letter to the Deputy Minister of National Defence stating that the Office would be investigating the overall administration of classification grievances. The investigation revealed that the Department had made progress on the backlog, reducing the active caseload to 112 files. However, the majority of grievances were still not being resolved within the 80-day time limit.
On 30 July 2018, the Ombudsman sent a letter to the Minister of National Defence indicating that the Office had initiated a systemic investigation into the administration of civilian classification, including classification grievances. The report was published in October 2018. For more details on the findings and recommendations, review Positions over People: An investigation into delays in the administration of civilian classification at the Department of National Defence. As noted in the report, on 1 July 2018 there were 72 active classification grievances.
How can the Ombudsman’s Office help?
If you are a civilian employee and you feel you are not being treated fairly with respect to the classification grievance process (e.g. if you are experiencing an unreasonable delay), or if you would like more information, please contact the Office of the Ombudsman.
If you are a civilian or military manager and you are looking for guidance or more information on classification grievances, please review our helpful information product, Manager’s Responsibilities. You can also contact Director Civilian Classification and Organization for further guidance.
Visit this page for updates on the progress in addressing the timeliness of the classification grievance process.
How are Classification Grievances Processed?
Employees have 35 days from the date of the classification decision (or when they are made aware of it) to present their grievance. The grievance is presented either through the employee’s bargaining agent (union representative) or directly to their manager. Their manager then sends the grievance to the Director of Civilian Classification and Organization, who is responsible for the administration of classification grievances for the Department of National Defence (DND).
A committee of three representatives, normally consisting of one representative from Treasury Board Secretariat and two from the DND, is assigned to hear the classification grievance. During the hearing, the aggrieved employee is given the opportunity to provide comments and arguments. (This can be done through their union representative). Their manager is also made available to the committee, to provide clarification on the job description as required. The committee then deliberates in camera,Footnote 8 and subsequently issues a report to the Deputy Minister or their delegateFootnote 9 with a recommendation regarding the classification. A written decision is issued to the grievor, based on that recommendation. The response to the grievor must be signed by the deputy head or delegate, and must state the classification and the effective date of the decision.
A classification grievance decision is final and binding. The only recourse is to apply to the Federal Court for judicial review.
Classification Grievance Process Map
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