Questions and answers for human resources specialists in the context of COVID-19
Information on assessing second language and answers to key questions about hiring in the federal public service during the pandemic.
Public service staffing in the context of COVID-19 requires more flexibility to lessen the impact on job seekers, human resources specialists and managers. The Public Service Commission has implemented temporary measures to address this situation and continues to improve services that support federal departments and agencies.
More questions may be added as the situation evolves.
Temporary measures for assessing second language
These temporary measures can be used until March 31, 2022, to assess all language skills: reading comprehension, written expression and oral proficiency.
1. What are the measures?
There are 2 temporary measures that provide departments and agencies with flexibility to staff bilingual positions during the pandemic. These apply to all appointments (indeterminate, term, acting) and deployments:
- Deputy heads are exempt from the requirement to use the Public Service Commission’s second language evaluation (SLE) tests when assessing second language proficiency.
- Extension of the validity period of expired SLE results for all appointments.
- For all appointments over 12 months, appointees must have their official language proficiency confirmed through Public Service Commission SLE tests within 24 months of the appointment
For Measure 2, see question 15 for a list of tests that may be used to confirm results.
Both measures are meant to ensure that merit is respected with regard to official languages and linguistic obligations identified in the Official Languages Act. Deputy heads must ensure that their organization can continue to:
- communicate with and serve Canadians and public servants in both official languages
- supervise bilingual employees in bilingual regions in the official language of their choice
- create a work environment conducive to the use of both official languages
For assistance, contact your designated staffing support advisor.
2. When do the measures take effect and how long will they be in effect?
These temporary measures are in effect until March 31, 2022, for all language skills (reading comprehension, written expression and oral proficiency).
The Public Service Commission may extend the temporary measures again or end them.
Note that departments and agencies will be asked to report on the use of these measures (see question 5).
3. Is it possible to combine the 2 measures to assess second language proficiency?
Yes, hiring managers may use the 2 measures to assess a person’s second language proficiency.
For example, hiring managers may decide to:
- assess reading comprehension by using an assessment tool of their choice
- extend the validity period of expired second language test results for written expression
Note that, for reporting purposes, managers must track their use of temporary measures.
4. Do these measures apply to assessing persons with a priority entitlement?
Yes. Both measures apply to appointments of persons with a priority entitlement.
5. What are the monitoring and reporting requirements for departments and agencies?
Departments and agencies will need to track and report the following information for both measures:
- the number of employees appointed or deployed using the 2 measures
For Measure 2, departments and agencies will also need to report on:
- the number of employees appointed or deployed for a period over 12 months
- the number of employees who have had their official language proficiency confirmed with Public Service Commission second language tests within 24 months of the appointment or deployment
- the number of employees who left the position before the end of the 24-month period; in this case, the results do not need to be confirmed
For Measure 2, departments and agencies will also need to track the following information for 2021–22:
- employee name
- group and level
- appointment or deployment date
- period of leave of more than 60 consecutive days (if applicable)
- end date of the 24-month period
6. Can these measures be used to assess the second language of employees who are completing their language training, for example, as part of a non-imperative appointment?
No. The temporary measures cannot be used in this case. Only second language tests from the Public Service Commission can be used for this purpose.
7. Do these measures apply to deployments?
Yes. Both measures and related conditions also apply to deployments.
Measure 1: Alternatives to the Public Service Commission’s second language tests
8. Can you provide direction on alternative assessment methods for assessing second language proficiency?
Hiring managers already have the discretion to choose the assessment methods and assess proficiency in the official language required for unilingual positions, and proficiency in the first official language for bilingual positions. The same discretion now temporarily applies to alternative methods for second language testing, as long as the guiding principles are respected.
The sub-delegated manager determines the second language proficiency requirements of the position using the levels defined by the Treasury Board’s Qualification Standards in Relation to Official Languages. As per the guiding principles, the method used to assess the required proficiency level must produce a “pass/fail” result.
To support hiring managers with alternative assessment methods, the Public Service Commission has developed practical guides for written expression, reading comprehension and oral proficiency tests. These guides include suggestions on how to develop assessment content and how to rate candidates. They also provide sample rating guides that may be used “as is” or adapted to meet the unique needs of each hiring manager.
9. Can the Public Service Commission’s self-assessment tests be used as an alternative to second language tests?
No. The questions in these self-assessment tests are not protected and the content is accessible to the public. These are practice tests meant to be used before taking the official Public Service Commission tests; the unofficial results cannot be used in a selection process.
Measure 2: Extension of the validity period for second language evaluation results
10. How old can the second language evaluation results be?
Second language evaluation results that are more than 5 years old are valid for appointments to a position requiring a proficiency equal to or lower than the person’s results.
If the most recent results no longer reflect the actual competency of the employee and there is a risk that linguistic obligations defined in the Official Languages Actare not met, sub-delegated managers should instead consider using Measure 1 (alternative second language evaluation methods) to confirm the candidate’s proficiency when making the appointment.
Note that when Measure 2 is used to make an appointment, the results need to be confirmed within 24 months of the appointment. See question 15 for more information on the Public Service Commission tests to use in this case.
11. How will departments and agencies establish the terms of Measure 2?
For all appointments over 12 months where Measure 2 was used, departments and agencies should specify the terms of these measures by including a new clause in the letter of offer as a condition that the employee must agree to for the appointment to be made. The Public Service Commission recommends that departments and agencies include the following clause in the letter of offer for this type of appointment:
- The position requires proficiency in both official languages, English and French, at the above-noted level. Your second language proficiency must be confirmed with Public Service Commission-approved second language tests within 24 months of the appointment. By accepting this offer, you agree to have your second official language proficiency evaluated. If you do not attain the required level of official language proficiency by the end of the 24-month period, you agree to be appointed or deployed to a position for which you meet the merit criteria, including official language proficiency, which is of a similar level and salary as this position.
12. Can the 24-month period to confirm the second language evaluation results be extended for Measure 2?
No. However, leave periods of more than 60 consecutive calendar days are excluded from the 24-month period. As a result, if a person is on leave for more than 60 calendar days, the total number of leave days is not included in the 24-month period.
13. What happens if, after trying to confirm second language evaluation results, the person does not obtain the level of proficiency required for the bilingual position?
The person will be able to take Public Service Commission second language tests more than once during the 24-month period. If, at the end of the 24-month period, the person fails to obtain the results required for the position, they will have to be appointed or deployed to a position for which they meet the merit criteria, including official language proficiency.
14. What happens if a person’s appointment of more than 12 months ends before the 24-month period?
The person’s second language evaluation results do not need to be confirmed if the person’s appointment ends within 24 months.
15. Can the Public Service Commission’s Oral Language Assessment and unsupervised tests of reading comprehension and written expression for level B or C be used to confirm second language evaluation results within 24 months of appointment?
Yes. The 3 tests can be used to confirm the second language evaluation results within 24 months of the appointment.
Second language testing
1. Can candidates take the Public Service Commission’s second language tests remotely?
Yes. The Public Service Commission developed second language tests that allow candidates to be tested from their homes:
- Reading: Unsupervised test of reading comprehension for level B or C
- Writing: Unsupervised test of written expression for level B or C
- Oral: Second Language Evaluation – Oral Language Assessment
For more information on second language testing options during COVID-19, contact the Personnel Psychology Centre at email@example.com.
2. A candidate is assessed using the Public Service Commission’s Second Language Evaluation – Oral Language Assessment and obtains a result that doesn’t meet the linguistic profile of their substantive position. Do they lose their bilingualism bonus?
Yes. As with other regular second language tests, results from the Second Language Evaluation – Oral Language Assessment are transferable across positions and managed by the Public Service Commission. With an updated result, if the person no longer meets the linguistic profile of the position, the bilingualism bonus will cease. For more information, consult the Bilingualism Bonus Directive.
For unsupervised tests of written expression and reading comprehension for level B or C, results are not transferable across positions and not managed by the Public Service Commission. For this reason, results from these tests will not affect the bilingualism bonus.
3. What are the options for testing the second language of employees who are completing their language training, for example, as part of a non-imperative appointment?
All second language tests from the Public Service Commission can be used to assess the oral, reading and writing proficiency of a person who completed training as part of an agreement to become bilingual following a non-imperative appointment. The temporary measures cannot be used.
Other questions related to staffing during the COVID-19 situation
1. In situations where it is not possible to produce or sign a letter of offer in the traditional way, can a verbal offer be made?
No. The Public Service Commission’s Appointment Framework requires that an offer of appointment be made in writing. A verbal offer does not comply with this requirement.
The form of a written offer is not prescribed in the Public Service Commission’s Appointment Policy or the Public Service Employment Act. As with any appointment, the written offer must be made by a person with sub-delegated authority and set out all the conditions related to the appointment. Information related to the appointment must be documented. For an internal appointment process, the offer is made once the notification of consideration has been issued and the waiting period is over. As long as these requirements are met, departments and agencies can use any written format that is practical, including an email. Other forms of electronic signature may also be available in some departments and agencies.
2. Can offers of appointment be made and accepted by email?
Neither the Public Service Employment Act nor the Public Service Commission’s Appointment Policy specify what format the offer of appointment or the signature must take. Departments and agencies can choose the method that best meets their needs, including making and accepting the offer by email. They must ensure the offer is made in writing, by a delegated or sub-delegated person, and that it sets out all the conditions of the appointment.
3. Can we use conditional offers to ensure someone can start now and meet any conditions later?
Candidates must meet the qualifications of the position and all other conditions before they can be appointed and start work. Conditional job offers are subject to the same legal and policy requirements as any offer of appointment.
For more information, consult our web page on conditional job offers.
4. Can a casual worker be extended beyond 90 working days in one calendar year if they’re working on the COVID-19 response?
No. The 90-day limit is established in legislation and cannot be waived. If a department or agency needs to extend a casual beyond 90 days for any reason, an advertised or non-advertised term appointment is the appropriate option.
5. Can priority clearance be waived for term appointments related to COVID-19?
No. Priority clearance is in place to recognize priority entitlements, which are legislative requirements. The Public Service Commission is expediting all urgent requests related to the COVID-19 situation or to ensuring the effective functioning of the Government of Canada.
If your department or agency has urgent staffing needs, contact our Staffing Support, Priorities and Political Activities Directorate at firstname.lastname@example.org.
6. If there’s an urgent need to staff a bilingual position, could official languages be removed from merit or assessed later?
No. The legislation specifies that official languages are an essential qualification; there is no means to waive the qualification, or to treat it as an asset. A hiring department or agency has considerable discretion to establish essential qualifications that are appropriate for each position to be staffed.
If a person to be hired in an emergency does not have valid second language evaluation results demonstrating that they meet the language requirements, the department or agency can appoint the person to another position for which they are qualified.
7. A candidate requires assessment accommodation measures for a Public Service Commission test. What do I need to do?
Human resources specialists should inform the Public Service Commission (CFP) as soon as possible when assessment accommodation measures are required:
- For the Second Language Evaluation – Oral Language Assessment, submit your request through the Second Language Evaluation – Scheduling System and indicate that an assessment accommodation is required.
- For second language reading comprehension and written expression tests administered in person at a PSC test centre, submit your request through the Second Language Evaluation – Scheduling System and indicate that an assessment accommodation is required.
- For all other PSC tests, you must place a request directly in the Assessment Accommodation Request System. This includes requests for the:
- unsupervised test of written expression for level B or C
- unsupervised test of reading comprehension for level B or C
- standard PSC second language evaluation tests (reading comprehension and written expression) administered by the department or agency
- For departmental tests (including alternative second language evaluations), you may request an assessment accommodation consultation with an expert; there is a fee for this service. These requests must also be placed directly in the Assessment Accommodation Request System.
Both of these systems are only accessible on the Government of Canada’s network. When applicable, indicate “COVID-19 related staffing” in the comments section when submitting your requests.
8. I have a question that is not addressed here. Who can I contact?
You can contact us by filling out a Questions and Comments Form.
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