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

Departments and agencies seeking to take advantage of  measure 3, authorizing the use of an alternative method for assessing second language proficiency, are invited to contact their staffing support advisor for information on requirements for authorization.

1. What are the temporary measures?

Temporary measures provided departments and agencies with flexibility to staff bilingual positions during the pandemic. These have evolved over time. These apply to all appointments (indeterminate, term, acting) and deployments:

  • Measure 1: Deputy heads are exempt from the requirement to use the Public Service Commission (PSC)’s second language evaluation (SLE) tests when assessing second language proficiency. Valid only for reading comprehension and written expression (no longer in effect).
  • Measure 2: Extension of the validity period of expired SLE results for all appointments (no longer in effect).
    • For all appointments over 12 months, appointees must have their official language proficiency confirmed through PSC SLE tests or an alternative assessment method by departments and agencies within 24 months of the appointment (see question 10).
    • Although this measure is no longer in effect, organizations are still required to confirm the SLE results of employees appointed with this measure.
  • Measure 3:  Authorized deputy heads can use an alternative method for assessing second language proficiency. The 3 language skills (oral interaction, reading comprehension and written expression) can be assessed with this measure.

The measures 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 more information regarding measure 3, consult the Letter to Heads of Human Resources, and the guiding principles for alternate methods to second language evaluation tests: targeted policy exemption.
For assistance, contact your designated staffing support advisor.

2. What is the measure in effect and how long will it be in effect?
  • Measure 1 is no longer in effect since October 1, 2022.
  • Measure 2 is no longer in effect since April 1, 2022.
  • Measure 3  is effective only after the requesting organization gets approval from the PSC; it will be in effect until the PSC revokes the measure for these organizations.  
3. Does measure 3 apply to assessing persons with a priority entitlement?

Yes. Measure 3 applies to appointments of persons with a priority entitlement.

4. What are the monitoring and reporting requirements for departments and agencies?

Departments and agencies will need to track and report the following information for all measures in the Appointment Delegation and Accountability Instrument Annex D – Reporting Form:

  • the number of employees appointed or deployed using measures 1 (until September 30, 2022) and 3

For measure 2 (no longer in effect), departments and agencies will need to:

  • report on the number of employees appointed or deployed for more than 12 months since March 2020 who have not obtained their second language evaluation results confirmed within 24 months of the appointment/deployment
  • track the following information for monitoring purposes:
    • 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
    • date of second language evaluation results confirmed within 24 months
5. Can measure 3 be used to assess the second language of employees who are completing their language training, for example, following an agreement to become bilingual as part of a non-imperative appointment?

No. This measure cannot be used in this case. Only second language tests from the Public Service Commission can be used for this purpose.

6. Does measure 3 apply to deployments?

Yes, it can be used for deployments.

Measure 2: Extension of the validity period for second language evaluation results

Note: Although measure 2 is no longer in effect since April 1, 2022, the requirement to confirm second language evaluation results within 24 months of the appointment is still in effect for those who were appointed with measure 2.

For appointments made using expired second language evaluation results under the temporary measure, the requirement to confirm results within 24 months of appointment has been modified to allow department and agencies to use a Public Service Commission-approved test or an alternative assessment method. The alternative method must respect these guiding principles and may be used to confirm results for any of the second language competencies (reading comprehension, written expression and oral interaction).

7. How can an organization confirm second language evaluation results when measure 2 has been used?

The requirement for the use of measure 2 has been modified to allow organizations to confirm their second language evaluation results with an alternative assessment method. See question 12 for additional information on alternative assessment methods.

8. Can the 24-month period to confirm the second language evaluation results be extended when Measure 2 was used?

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.

9. What happens if, after trying to confirm second language evaluation results, a person does not obtain the level of proficiency required for the bilingual position?

The person can take Public Service Commission second language tests, and organizations can use an alternative assessment method 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.

10. 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.

Measure 3: Authorized deputy heads can use an alternative method for assessing second language proficiency

11. How is measure 3 different from measure 1?

Measure 1 is no longer in effect since October 1, 2022. Measure 3 (targeted temporary exemption) is granted to organizations, following a review and approval of their submission to the Public Service Commission (PSC).  The PSC determines if the organization has a framework in place to ensure the quality of second language evaluations. The framework must identify:

  • who will be conducting the evaluation
  • how the exemption will be applied within the organization
  • how the quality and effectiveness of assessment will be monitored

For more details, please contact your staffing support advisor.

Once approved, the organization may use their own alternative assessment methods (see question 12 for more information on alternative assessment methods) to assess second language proficiency.

Measure 3 allows for the assessment of the 3 language skills, while measure 1 only allows for the assessment of reading and writing. Also, measure 1 is in effect until September 30, 2022, and measure 3 will remain in effect until the PSC revokes it.

The guiding principles for alternate methods to second language evaluation tests: targeted policy exemption for measure 3 state that the assessment results can be reused for other appointments/deployments within the same department or agency.

The PSC will review the use of measure 3 at the end of fiscal year 2022–23.

12. What is an alternative assessment method for assessing second language proficiency?

An alternative assessment method could include the personal knowledge or a work sample of the employee. If the hiring manager has been able to observe the employee in the course of their duties with respect to the use of their second official language and has acquired sufficient personal knowledge to assess the individual, the hiring manager may decide to use personal knowledge as an assessment method while respecting the guiding principles for alternate methods to second language evaluation tests. The assessment method and results must be documented. Please consult your human resources advisor for further details.

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.

13. 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.

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