This is the second entry in our blog that focuses on the topic of labour law. In case you missed it, the first entry provided a primer on managing a unionized workplace and you can find it here.

In this blog, we provide some practical tips and tricks for unionized employers to navigate the grievance process.

Conflicts in a unionized workplace are almost always addressed through the grievance process. What constitutes a grievance is typically defined by the collective agreement. A grievance is typically defined as any dispute, difference or complaint regarding the application, interpretation or alleged violation of the collective agreement. The parties to the grievance, that is the parties who are entitled to file and respond to a grievance are usually also outlined by the collective agreement. Beyond defining a grievance, the collective agreement will typically also outline the grievance process.

So You’ve Just Received a Grievance: Now What?

Here are some considerations to keep in mind when navigating the grievance process:

  1. Understand the process as outlined by the collective agreement: typically, grievance processes have several ‘steps’. The first step is usually an informal conversation between the affected employee and the appropriate supervisor (and may involve a union representative). If the matter is not resolved it moves on to the second step of the process. The second step typically involves the grievance being formalized in writing and a meeting between a representative for the Employer and the Union. If the process includes a third step, it typically involves a different employer representative who may be a senior member of the organization or experienced in labour relations. 
  2. Understand your place within the grievance process: if you are the applicable manager hearing about a potential grievance for the first time or the employer representative assigned to hear the grievance at the third step, what you hear and the general tone of the meeting may vary widely as will the appropriate response. No matter your place in the grievance process, understand the timelines involved, the nature of the relationship with the Union, and the responses of those who have heard the grievance in its earlier stages. 
  3. Analyze the grievance from an objective lens: hearing a very impassioned or borderline angry grievance presentation can be tough at times. After all, it’s unlikely that the grievance has anything to do with the person hearing the presentation on behalf of the employer. On the other hand, in a very busy work environment, a compelling summary of previous findings may seem like a quick and easy way to understand the grievance and keep it moving through the process. Ultimately, it’s critical that no matter the tension in the air or the number of grievances yet to be resolved that you review the grievance with an objective lens. 
  4. Be prepared for the grievance meeting: once it comes time to attend the grievance meeting to hear the grievance, it is critical that you come prepared. Take thorough and detailed notes and ask careful questions. Assume that your notes will be reviewed and even relied on during the arbitration. Be prepared to raise preliminary objections (timeliness, scope) during the grievance meeting. 
  5. Conduct a thorough and well-documented investigation: speak to the people involved in the grievance and review all applicable documents. Document your conversations and store all relevant information. It’s best to assume that your investigation will be the starting point for arbitration-related preparations. 
  6. Consider whether the grievance can be resolved: Consider what the grievance calls for. Is it possible and appropriate to consider a practical resolution quickly ending the dispute and a return to workplace bliss, or does this need to finally be settled with the word of an arbitrator. 
  7. Be forward-thinking: in some cases, you’ll be able to quickly tell how likely that the circumstances leading to this grievance will lead to another. Consider whether anything can or should be done to address the problem and prevent it from occurring again.

Be sure to look out for our next blog post on the topic of labour law. In the meantime, if you have any questions, Get in touch!