Fact Sheet #3b) Human Rights Grievances and Complaints Process
Element: Alignment of Policies and Processes
Outcome 3: Legal responsibilities under the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) are recognized and the Employment Equity Act (EEA) reporting requirements are initiated.
Indicator 3b): Informed response to anti-discrimination grievances as specified under the collective agreement (if applicable) and complaints as specified under the Canadian Human Rights Commission (the Commission) are provided.
Possible Measures and Data Sources:
- Comparison of internal timeframes with Canadian Human Rights Commission (the Commission) deadlines.
- Comparison of internal process with the Commission Operating Procedures (see the Commission website for operating procedures).
Every organization that deals with the public and manages a workforce must also manage complaints; complaints are an integral part of continuous organizational improvement and of maintaining a high quality of customer service. Citizens and employees have the right to complain about, and seek a remedy for, decisions or actions of an organization that adversely affect them. In doing so, they hold the organization accountable for its decisions and actions. This is an important principle of a free and democratic society. An effective complaint / grievance management system benefits organizations in that it:
- promotes stakeholder satisfaction, including both employees and clients;
- improves the image of the business;
- identifies areas requiring improvement;
- enables poor decisions to be rectified quickly and efficiently;
- saves money by resolving problems internally, close to the source, without the need for resources to be devoted to review by an external adjudicator;
- prevents complaints from escalating; and
- empowers staff and managers with the tools to deal with the unhappy employee or client.
An effective complaints management system is structured to allow for fair and detailed consideration of each complaint, whether made internally or to an external body such as the Commission. A complaints management system reflects the organization’s commitment to its vision and values, and demonstrates how the organization relates to its employees, stakeholders, and the public.
Any complaints management process can be broken down into the following basic steps: access, acceptance, investigation, decision, remedy, and monitoring.
- Access: It is important for the first stage, access to the complaints management process, to be open and well known. No remedy can be achieved if stakeholders do not understand how to lodge a complaint. If there are requirements for the form or timing of complaints, these should be communicated widely and clearly by the organization.
- Acceptance: There may be requirements for form, timeliness, and subject matter, which need to be met before a complaint can be officially accepted, but the acceptance step is the first opportunity for the organization to understand fully the basis of the complaint. It is important that formal requirements not get in the way of this understanding.
- Investigation: Once a complaint is accepted, it must be investigated, and any investigation, no matter what its context, must be governed by the rules of procedural fairness to ensure its soundness. A sound investigation is thorough, in that it engages in a full examination of all questions arising from the complaint according to available information; it is also both objective and neutral, in that it is not affected by bias on the part of the investigator. In addition, anyone who is a party to the investigation has a right to be kept informed on its progress. An organization at Level 1 will have clear guidelines in place regarding the timelines for the progress of the investigation and decision.
- Decision: The decision-maker in any complaints process has a duty to act fairly and transparently. Decisions in a sound complaints management system are usually subject to review by an outside authority, such as the courts; this is particularly true where an employee’s human rights are at issue, and the record of the decision must be available to the parties, and the basis for the decision must be apparent on the record.
- Remedy: The remedy available to a party whose rights have been abridged is an integral part of a sound complaints management system. At Level 1, an organization will have clear and accessible information on the remedies available, and how they are determined within its complaints management system.
- Monitoring: At Level 1, an organization will also have mechanisms for monitoring its own complaints management, to ensure that all complaints are treated in a way that is efficient, consistent, accessible and fair.
The Level 1 organization can respond to discrimination complaints according to the Commission’s recommended practices, and to grievances alleging discrimination according to the relevant grievance process, if any. Ensure that your organization establishes a sound process for dealing with human rights disputes. Information on how to make a complaint should be widely available and staff of the organization should be prepared to provide verbal advice about the complaints handling process and assist people to make complaints. Discussions are often effective as a first step in resolving issues, as people often prefer to talk to someone rather than write to a faceless official.
The Commission has developed an effective dispute resolution system for human rights complaints that remains administratively efficient while ensuring complaints are dealt with in accordance with the rules of procedural fairness. This administrative standard should be known and adhere to, outside of exceptional circumstances, when dealing with the Commission. The standards are:
- Request for defense: The respondent (the person or organization about whom the complaint is made) is given 30 calendar days to submit its position.
- Request for rebuttal: The complainant (the person making the complaint) is given 30 calendar days to provide his or her position on the defence.
- Requests for further information: The investigator has discretion to ask for further information, and to set deadlines for receiving it. The kind of information asked for and the circumstances surrounding it will be taken into account in setting the deadline.
- The parties are given 21 calendar days (or 15 working days) after disclosure of an investigation report to provide comments to the investigator.
- Once any submissions are received, they are cross-disclosed to the parties; that is, the complainant’s comments are sent to the respondent, and the respondent’s comments are sent to the complainant, and each has 14 calendar days to provide further comments.
- The Commission investigator may choose to grant reasonable extensions to these timelines, on a case-by-case basis.
- Creating or updating a tracking system for grievances and human right complaints: Make sure all grievances and external human rights complaints are monitored through this system.
- Managing expectations: An organization’s online resources are a good means of informing stakeholders about what to expect from the complaints management process.
- Building in transparency: Make the organization’s policies concerning complaints management clear on how and where to lodge a complaint, how long the investigation will take, and what is happening with a complaint at any stage.
- Communicating widely: Make sure that all formal requirements and applicable timelines are known and understood by the people who are directly involved, throughout your organization, by making the information both broadly communicated and accessible.
- Choosing a champion: Consider naming a senior official in human resources as responsible for the resolution and prevention of harassment; the handling of complaints under the Commission and under the Board’s own policy is monitored at this level. The organization’s commitment to human rights culture is thus demonstrated at the most senior levels of the organization.
Useful links and tools
Dispute Resolution Operating Procedures - Canadian Human Rights Commission
IBLF and Human Rights - International Business Leaders Forum
Good Decision-Making Guide- Queensland Ombudsman
A Guide to Developing Effective Complaints Management Policies and Procedures - Queensland Ombudsman
Complaints Management Fact Sheet Series - Queensland Ombudsman
A Guide to Complaints Management – Queensland Government
This fact sheet was developed in part using material from the publications of the Queensland Ombudsman titled Information for Queensland Public Sector Agencies: Effective Complaints Management Fact Sheets, Queensland Ombudsman’s Communication and Research Section
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