I’m a government HR geek, and I like reading Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board decisions just to see what’s going on in the world of grievances that make it that far (many drop out earlier with simple alternate arrangements or the government realizing it did something wrong and reversing itself). One that made it that far recently was Song v. Deputy Minister National Defence. And mostly what I like about it was the unique outcome.
As is often the case, the issue started with a competition where a candidate was screened out at the application stage. It is always the applicant’s responsibility to demonstrate they meet the criteria and if they don’t, they’re out. This can and often is a pretty hard and fast rule. Many rulings are out there on this factor — if they don’t say it in the application, you don’t have to accept follow-up info or anything else, and if you do, it should only be in very unusual situations (for example, the person has to prove they did budget forecasting, and they say they completed three years work of budget updates in their current job — without specifying that it includes both reporting and forecasting for the coming year…when they follow-up, they find out that the screener’s department use different terminology, and so “updates” there doesn’t include forecasting, but now that they know what it means, and they may even look at a sample, they say, “Oh, okay, you do meet it” and might screen them in…or say, “Sorry, no, you didn’t prove it in the original application, not our problem, you’re out”). In this case, the applicant contacted the hiring manager, had some additional weak examples, and wanted a chance at the interview.
At this point, the hiring manager made an error. They thought, “no harm, no foul” giving them a chance — but says she really didn’t think they met the screening criteria. That shouldn’t happen. You meet it and you’re in, or you don’t and you’re out. Borderline is a different story, but here she said the applicant clearly wasn’t qualified and let them continue anyway.
The assessment phase seemed to be a combination of written exam + interview, with part of the written to develop a presentation that was then given as part of the interview. The applicant became ill during the session, so much so that they laid down and the Board actually discussed calling an ambulance. While testimony varies as to who decided to proceed after she felt better, this too was another error. They should not have proceeded.
The candidate failed two elements for the assessment that shouldn’t have continued, and she fought the decision as well as damages for suffering. Under the old PS Tribunal, that wasn’t an option, but the reformed PSLRB+PSTribunal = PSLREB has some extra party favours for participants. However, the outcome is a bit different.
The decision states that the first problem was letting the candidate proceed at all and the second was proceeding after the illness. So the complaint is substantiated at that point. However, the candidate shouldn’t have made it to the assessment, and regardless of what happened, there was no evidence of malice or intent. So no damages. End result? The tribunal says “yes there was an error, you’re right, but I’m not telling them to do anything else about it”.
So for the complainant? She gets told not only are we not going to give you any money, not only are we not going to put you in the pool, not only are we not going to let you redo the assessment, but also you weren’t qualified in the first place. Or in other words, “Yep, you’re right overall. Case closed.”
While I don’t think she should have got any money for her supposed suffering (there was no bias, discrimination or malice, she just had an illness spell during the process), the outcome is a bit harsh for the complainant. This is often the case — the government people felt from the beginning she was wrong, so they pushed through to the end to technically lose but still win.