Skip to Main Content

The grievance and arbitration process

When unionized employees raise a complaint against their employer, they usually have to go through a grievance and arbitration process.

The grievance process in itself regulates how disputes in the workplace are to be handled between an employee and an employer and it also forms the core of the relationship between unions and management in Canada.

What is a grievance?

A grievance is defined as "an allegation, usually by an individual (employee), but sometimes by the union or management, of misinterpretation or misapplication of a collective bargaining agreement or of traditional work practices."

How does the grievance and arbitration process address and resolve disputes?

It’s a process that is designed to handle and resolve grievance complaints for collective bargaining through an adjudicative process, and allows for a final binding solution to the problem without having to go to court.

The process has also been described as a semi-judicial, private system created for collective bargaining relationships.

What issues can be raised in grievance arbitration?

There are many issues that can be raised in relation to an individual’s employment, dismissal, and workplace policies. Additional issues include such things as:

  • Interpretation, examination, contravention or claimed contravention of the collective bargaining agreement;
  • Interpretation, examination, contravention or claimed contravention of an employer act or regulation;
  • Disciplinary action against an employee or employees, including suspensions for just cause.

What is the process?

A grievance can be resolved without having to go to arbitration. Often it is encouraged and even mandated that the parties to a grievance come to a satisfactory resolution between themselves.

However, if no resolution is reached then the matter can be brought to grievance arbitration that allows the labour board of each province to examine the complaint, hear out each party, look at the evidence and then render a binding decision.

The party that usually files the grievance is the union, either on behalf of an employee, a group of employees or a policy issue.

An example of a grievance procedure can be seen from the Northwest Territories.

  • Within 20 working days of becoming aware of the problem or incident, the grievor (usually the union) has to notify the superintendent;
  • The superintendent will try to help to resolve the dispute between the parties but if it hasn’t been resolved within 10 working days of the complaint then the process keeps going in the next step in which;
  • The parties are given another 40 working days to try to resolve with the help of the superintendent, in the form of a meeting, and the Superintendent will give the parties a written decision within 10 working days of the meeting;
  • If the grievor is not happy with the superintendents decision he or she can then forward the grievance to the Executive Director of the Association and the Director of Corporate Human Resources;
  • The two parties meet, review the grievance and try to come to a solution which they may present to the parties;
  • If the dispute is still not resolved then within 20 working days the parties determine if they need to start formal arbitration procedures.

Keep in mind that while grievance and arbitration process are likely similar in provinces/territories they likely also have differences of which the parties should be aware.

The grievance arbitration is a complicated process and should be handled by your union/union lawyers.

Read more:

The Grievance Arbitration Process in Canada

Frequently Asked Questions about Grievances