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Court of Appeal Criticizes Vague Grievances

13-May-10

A recent decision by the Alberta Court of Appeal has highlighted a growing problem with union grievances and reminded us all of some possible solutions.

The Union in question had filed a grievance using a standard form with check boxes and virtually every box was checked. It referred to the fact that the employee was unsuccessful on a job posting and then “threw in everything but the kitchen sink” - the grievance alleged that the employer’s actions were “unjust, unfair, improper, unreasonable, discriminatory and constituted a financial penalty”. In addition, the grievance alleged a violation/misapplication/misinterpretation of the Collective Agreement, in particular but not limited to the management rights clause, and a breach of “any other relevant policy or legislation”. Talk about throwing in everything they could think of! Who could have possibly known from this that the whole argument was based on an alleged violation of a piece of legislation?

Although secondary to the main issue in the appeal, the Court was moved to comment:

“the notices of grievance were inadequate. The
appellant argues that they are just “form documents”,
but that does not answer the objection. The notice
of grievance is a form of pleading, which is designed
to identify and define the dispute, and to give 
the employer notice of what is to be in issue. The
notices of grievance filed in this case are so generic
as to be virtually meaningless.”

“The employer could have demanded particulars
of the exact nature of the grievance, or possibly
could have had the notices struck out as being
too general to be in compliance with the Collective
Agreement.”

Indeed, that would be true in more and more cases. If the grievance is too vague, the employer should obtain particulars in writing as soon as possible. It should not just get them verbally at the grievance meeting. In some cases, it should take the position, again in writing, that it is not a valid grievance. For example, if a grievance is supposed to specify the section of the collective agreement that is allegedly breached and the union responds with “All” then it may not be a valid grievance at all.

Allowing this practice to continue allows unions to be virtually unrestricted in what arguments they can come up with for a hearing. It is not fair to the process, especially when the collective agreement has some requirements for grievances to contain certain things.

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