Archived - Guide to Implementing the Informal Discussion Policy
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This guide has been designed to help human resources advisors better understand the expectations of the PSC with regard to the implementation of its Policy on Informal Discussion. It explains, in practical terms, the application of the values that are fundamental to the policy. This guide also outlines how the PSC expects the policy to be implemented.
Informal Discussion is a sharing of information between a person eliminated from consideration in an internal appointment process and the decision-maker. It could occur when a person has been eliminated from consideration from the appointment process altogether as a result of not meeting an essential qualification; when a person has been eliminated from consideration for the particular appointment as a result of not meeting one or more of the other merit criteria; or when the person meets all the merit criteria, but is not being considered for an appointment at that time.
The purpose of an Informal Discussion is to share information so that the person who was eliminated can understand the reasons for the decision for elimination. An Informal Discussion promotes transparency and is intended to improve communication during the appointment process before a final decision with regard to an appointment is made. An Informal Discussion is meant to be informal. With no set rules or format, an Informal Discussion is intended to be a free-flowing and frank sharing of information between the decision-maker and the person eliminated from consideration.
An Informal Discussion is similar to post-board feedback. But, unlike a post-board, an Informal Discussion is available at any stage during the appointment process, as soon as possible after the person has been eliminated from consideration. Errors or oversights may be corrected while the appointment process is still in progress. There is no reason to wait until the appointment process is complete.
Informal Discussion is an integral part of the appointment process to maximize the ability to correct errors and oversights and to ensure that appointment processes are conducted efficently. To help organizations manage the Informal Discussion process, particularly when many persons are eliminated (i.e. collective staffing), they may consider establishing a period of time in which persons eliminated can request an Informal Discussion and when organizations will provide these sessions. For example, organizations may set up regular Informal Discussion sessions and establish time frames for interested persons who have been eliminated to present themselves (in person, by telephone, by other electronic means, etc.).
When many persons are eliminated at the same time in an appointment process and the reason(s) for their elimination will not change (e.g. a person is screened out at initial screening, such as area of selection, or does not meet an essential qualification), an Informal Discussion is only needed once.
Informal Discussion is not a part of a formalized complaint process
Informal Discussion is different from a complaint to the Public Service Staffing Tribunal (PSST), which requires a formal complaint before it can be accessed. For an Informal Discussion, no formal complaint is required. Further, in the case of a complaint to the PSST, the complainant may have access to information about the successful candidates. By contrast, with an Informal Discussion, only information about the process as it relates to the person who was eliminated is discussed. The focus, therefore, is on the reasons for the decision that resulted in the elimination of the person.
Informal Discussion is not mediation
Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution mechanism designed to resolve a conflict. An Informal Discussion is a sharing of information between the decision-maker and the person eliminated. There is no neutral third party to facilitate the discussion, nor would there be such documents as Memoranda of Agreement or Confidentiality Agreements. While third parties could accompany eliminated persons to the Informal Discussion, their role would be to support and assist, not to mediate or facilitate.
Informal Discussion is not an Informal Conflict Management System
The Informal Conflict Management System (ICMS) is a system for dealing with conflict. It incorporates alternative dispute resolution methods into existing rights-based structures (such as the grievance process) to form a multi-option conflict management system. The purpose of an ICMS is to resolve workplace conflict through the use of such methods as mediation, coaching and facilitation. By contrast, as stated earlier, an Informal Discussion is a sharing of information to explain the reasons for which a person was eliminated from consideration.
Occasionally, an underlying workplace conflict may be identified during an Informal Discussion. In such cases, the decision-maker or person eliminated may decide to request the assistance of the organizational ICMS to resolve the conflict. This request would be handled as a matter distinct and separate from the appointment process.
Why did the PSC establish a policy on Informal Discussion when the legislation does not make it mandatory?
One of the principles set out in the preamble of the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) is "effective dialogue." This is reinforced by an important feature of the legislation that establishes a process called Informal Discussion. It promotes communication and, through an open sharing of information, serves to create a positive workplace. It is a distinct concept for all organizations and, because of its importance, the PSC established an Informal Discussion policy to ensure that it is implemented appropriately in all organizations. In the Policy on Informal Discussion, the PSC ensures that there is consistency in its application as it addresses timeliness for discussions that should provide sufficient information. It is a key policy for putting into practice the guiding values of fairness and transparency in the appointment process.
The Policy Statement states that, during an internal appointment process, persons eliminated from consideration are provided with an opportunity to discuss the decision to eliminate them, as soon as possible after the decision is made. In this way, any errors or oversights can be corrected early on, so that the appointment process can proceed without delay. It could be that the person eliminated was assessed incorrectly and should be re-assessed, or that the manager inadvertently failed to assess a qualification for all participants and the decision needs to be revisited.
By recognizing this as early in the appointment process as possible, such situations can be corrected in a timely manner, allowing appointments to be made efficiently.
The Policy on Informal Discussion applies only to internal advertised and non-advertised appointment processes.
In internal advertised processes, persons who were eliminated from consideration must be offered an Informal Discussion. In the case of non-advertised appointment processes, an Informal Discussion must be offered to any person in the area of selection (as set out in the notification requirements).
An Informal Discussion is not required for external advertised and non-advertised appointment processes. As well, since the appointment of priority persons as a result of a priority entitlement is not considered an appointment process, it is not subject to Informal Discussion. However, in the interests of fairness and transparency, managers are encouraged to discuss their decisions with priority persons, as well as with those persons who have been eliminated from consideration in external processes.
The policy requirements of the PSC state that deputy heads must ensure that:
- Persons are made aware, in a timely manner, of the decision to eliminate them from consideration;
- Persons eliminated from consideration who request an Informal Discussion have access to sufficient information concerning themselves to understand and discuss the decision;
- Errors or oversights can be corrected, where appropriate; and
- Persons are made aware that participating in an Informal Discussion in no way affects their right to file a complaint with the PSST.
These requirements help to ensure that the appointment process is fair and transparent. Persons eliminated are provided with the necessary information to discuss and understand the decision. As well, managers have the flexibility to correct any flaws in the appointment process. By adhering to these basic requirements, regardless of how informal a process the deputy head puts into place, persons will be treated in a fair and transparent manner.
Before starting an appointment process, consideration should be given to how Informal Discussion will be managed throughout the appointment process. For example, in respecting the requirements of the PSC policy to provide timely and comprehensive feedback, consideration should be given to the communication of Informal Discussion. It must be determined how and when to communicate the results of the appointment process and the availability of Informal Discussion. As well, consideration should be given to what information can be shared and how Informal Discussions will be conducted (face to face, by teleconference, by e-mail, etc.).
Persons are made aware, in a timely manner, of the decision to eliminate them from consideration
Holding Informal Discussion sessions shortly after the decision is made to eliminate a person helps to avoid delays in the appointment process, should there be a need to adjust or correct the process in any way. Also, because Informal Discussion encourages a free-flowing sharing of information leading to a better understanding of how and why decisions were made, it could reduce the use of formal recourse.
The decision to eliminate a person from consideration may occur at any point in the appointment process, wherever there is a decision made to determine which persons will continue through the process. For example, it could be at the screening, written examination or interview stages or at the checking of references. It could also occur towards the end of the appointment process, when persons are notified of who is being considered for the appointment.
The term "eliminated from consideration" means that the person:
- has been eliminated from the appointment process altogether because the person does not meet one of the essential qualifications;
- has been eliminated from the particular appointment because the person does not meet one of the asset qualifications, organizational needs or operational requirements being applied; or
- meets all the merit criteria, but is not being considered for an appointment at this time.
Possible examples of elimination from consideration include the following:
- Initial screening — A person may be screened out at the initial stage of the appointment process based on information available, on any factor, such as area of selection, educational requirements, experience, occupational certification, operational requirements or official languages.
- Assessment results — It is possible that a test or examination will be used during an appointment process to assess some or all of the qualifications. If a person is eliminated from consideration due to their test results, then, at this point of elimination, the person is offered an opportunity for an Informal Discussion. As well, at any point during an appointment process, references may be used as a basis for assessment. If a decision is made to eliminate a person based on the results of a reference check, an Informal Discussion can take place.
- Notification of consideration — Where a person has not been eliminated at an earlier stage, this notification is when the person is advised of the name of the person being considered for appointment. It would be at this point that the person eliminated would be able to request an Informal Discussion to find out the reason for their elimination from consideration for the particular appointment. This is significant in the context of a non-advertised appointment process, since this notification would be the first time a person in the area of selection is advised that he or she is not being considered for appointment.
How is Informal Discussion implemented in the appointment process?
Organizations must inform persons in internal appointment processes that Informal Discussion is available. The PSC Policy on Informal Discussion does not prescribe how this should be done. Therefore, organizations may inform persons who have been eliminated from consideration of the availability of Informal Discussion in any manner they choose.
The following are just a few of the possible options for advising persons of the availability of Informal Discussion:
- In the case of advertised appointment processes, the advertisement may include the name of a contact person and provide information about the availability of Informal Discussion;
- In the case of non-advertised appointment processes, organizations may provide information on Informal Discussion, including timelines on the notification of consideration, to the persons in the area of selection;
- Information on Informal Discussion may be included in the letter or e-mail informing persons that they have been eliminated from consideration; or
- The organization's Intranet site may provide general information on the availability of Informal Discussion for advertised and non-advertised appointment processes.
Persons eliminated from consideration who request an Informal Discussion have access to sufficient information concerning themselves to understand and discuss the decision
Persons participating in an Informal Discussion should be able to discuss any information pertaining to their candidacy that would help them understand the decision to eliminate them. This information could include any factors that were taken into account, including the merit criteria used, how the assessment was carried out and the assessment of that person. The information provided during any Informal Discussion should relate only to the person who has been eliminated from consideration. An Informal Discussion must respect the requirements of the Privacy Act, which protects personal information about a third party.
It is important to note that an Informal Discussion can be conducted by whatever means is most efficient and effective. For example, in the case of persons located at a distance, an Informal Discussion does not need to be a face-to-face discussion; rather, information may be communicated via e-mail, telephone, video conferencing, etc.
When a large group of persons have similar questions or common concerns related to their elimination from consideration, it may be appropriate to hold group Informal Discussion sessions to address general information, such as the merit criteria or the business and human resources plan of the organization. This would not, however, preclude an opportunity for persons eliminated to request an Informal Discussion on an individual basis to address more specific concerns. It is important that persons do not feel pressured to forgo their opportunity for an individual Informal Discussion when group sessions are made available.
The PSEA permits the restriction of the area of selection to designated employment equity groups. As well, the merit criteria may include organizational needs identified by the deputy head as including achieving representativeness in the organization. In order to be fair and transparent, persons need to be advised that the area of selection was limited to designated group members, or that the established organizational need to increase representativeness was applied and determined through the informed consent to provide and disclose this information. Therefore, if a person in an appointment process limited to designated employment equity groups has self-identified as a member of a designated group, that information may be shared in an Informal Discussion. Of course, the requirement for consent to self-identify and the fact that this information may be disclosed should be included in the advertisement.
Errors or oversights can be corrected, where appropriate
This policy requirement reinforces the flexibility of Informal Discussion. Errors and oversights made during the appointment process can be corrected as soon as they are identified, so that better decisions may be made. For example, if a person was incorrectly screened out and should be assessed further, the situation can be easily rectified.
It must be noted and taken into consideration that a correction made in regard to one person may have an impact on other persons in the appointment process. For example, to ensure fairness, it may be necessary to reassess other persons if it is determined that an assessment tool is flawed.
Persons are made aware that participating in an Informal Discussion in no way affects the right to file a complaint with the Public Service Staffing Tribunal
Informal Discussion is not recourse; therefore, it should not be considered a part of any recourse process. Informal Discussion is a means of incorporating discussion into the appointment process before a final decision is made. A complaint to the PSST can be made only after the notification of an appointment or proposed appointment has been issued.
The right to complain to the PSST does not apply to an incumbent-based process, as defined by the Commission in section 2 of the Public Service Employment Regulations. Those persons may file a complaint within the framework of their organizational recourse mechanism.
The Policy on Informal Discussion refers to two other key policies that have an impact on communication in the Informal Discussion process.
First, the PSC Policy on Official Languages in the Appointment Process addresses communication of information. Just as each person has the right to participate in an appointment process in the official language(s) of his or her choice, regardless of the language or location of the position, each person has the right to participate in an Informal Discussion in the official language(s) of his or her choice.
Second, the Treasury Board Policy on the Duty to Accommodate Persons with Disabilities in the Federal Public Service requires the accommodation of persons to the point of undue hardship. It also requires that employees with disabilities be provided with information in a timely fashion and in an accessible format.
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