Fact Sheet #10a) Human Rights Grievance and Complaint Processes

Level 2

Element: Alignment of Policies and Processes

Outcome 10: Formal discrimination complaints process is established.

Indicator 10a): Discrimination grievance procedure (where applicable) and discrimination complaint process is accessible (i.e., readily available), timely, transparent and provides for remedies.

Possible Measures and Data Sources:

  • Evidence of compliance with collective agreement timelines.
  • Evidence of a complaint process that is accessible, timely and transparent.
  • Evidence that remedies are accessible.

Indicator Description

Just as every organization that deals with the public and manages a workforce must manage complaints, every system for handling complaints, whether a human rights complaints system or a grievance handling system, must also have the capacity to determine and award a remedy. 

At Level 2, the organization has established an anti-discrimination complaints process; the applicable grievance procedure is readily available, timely, transparent, and provides for remedies.

The organization has the capacity to consider appropriate remedies, whether individualized or system-wide, for breach of the human rights values expressed by the organization.

The more consistent is the approach to remedies, the more closely the organization’s practices will mirror its expressed values and commitments. The more closely the organization’s dispute handling systems reflect the principles of natural justice, the more genuine and lasting will be the resolutions achieved. 

Suggested Approach

  • Human rights legislation is remedial: the object of a human rights complaint is to put the complainant who has experienced discrimination in the same position he or she would be in if the discriminatory act had not occurred.
  • Grievances are also meant to be restorative: remedies under a grievance are meant to correct situations in which the protections afforded to the employee by membership in a collective agreement failed to prevent a discriminatory effect. 
  • At Level 2, the organization has processes in place that can be tested to ensure that they respond properly to the need for restorative remedies.
  • The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) has developed tools relating to the timeliness and transparency of grievance procedures and complaints processes.
  • The Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) gives a discretion to the Commission as screening body not to deal with a complaint where it is apparent that another procedure is appropriate to the dispute and is readily available to the potential complainant; at Level 2, the organization has made its processes accessible and readily available to employees to aid in resolving human rights disputes in a timely, cost-effective and lasting way.
  • At Level 2, the organization is building partnerships with the CHRC and other organizations to increase the flexibility and responsiveness of applicable complaints and grievance systems.
  • Grievance processes can result in both individual remedies affecting specific employees, and system-wide remedies such as modifying procedures or policies in order to ensure that other employees don’t face the same adverse effect. 

Promising Practices

  • Making sure information is available: The Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman (Australia) points out that a clear decision is an important remedy in itself[1] . A clearly-worded decision on a grievance or complaint, including precise reasons, can promote improved communication between the parties.
  • Bringing stakeholders together: Regular communications about how anti-discrimination complaints systems and grievance systems are working can help to improvelabour-management relations, and to improve the operation of the systems themselves. Discussion of complaints management systems and grievance process can be a regular item on the agenda of the organization’s human rights committee or labour-management discussions.
  • Abiding by accepted standards for dispute resolution systems: There are generally accepted principles for the structure and operation of systems for the handling grievances and human rights complaints. These principles are usually based on the rules of natural justice. The organization’s internal grievance handling and human rights complaints systems can make use of the same principles. Incorporating principles of natural justice increases the likelihood that disputes will be resolved in a way that the parties can abide by over the long term.
  • Using principles consistent with natural justice: The organization can make use of the following principles to help to ensure that its grievance and human rights complaints handling processes are reliable:
    • Acceptance: Any resolution system is more likely to be credible, ethical, successful and accountable when it has found acceptance in the organization or community in which it is used. Acceptance begins with communicating about the resolution system within the organization.
    • Accessibility: A grievance or complaint resolution process is accessible where employees or stakeholders within the organization are able to use it without barriers. The time taken to resolve disputes also affects the availability of the process. The organization should be able to deal with disputes within a reasonable length of time.
    • Impartiality and Expertise: Impartiality is achieved where there is a third party engaged either to facilitate the process or to render a decision on the dispute. Where the organization can involve a decision-maker who can offer an objective viewpoint on the dispute, the decision is likely to be sound, and to be seen that way. Where the decision-maker or facilitator has knowledge of human rights principles, or is able to seek information where required, the credibility and integrity of the systems is increased.
    • Confidentiality: Any personal information shared in the course of the grievance or complaints systems is treated as confidential; this too will add to the integrity of the systems.
    • Opportunity to be heard: Any sound complaints resolution system allows each party an opportunity to present its case, and to know the case that is made against it. Resolution systems for human rights complaints or grievances always include the sharing of information between the interested parties. It is important that they have sufficient knowledge of the nature of the issues in order to present a thorough position, and to respond appropriately to the allegations of the other party or parties.
    • Clear reasons: Where there is a decision-maker, that decision-maker should present reasons to the parties, preferably in writing, that include sufficient detail to make the basis of the decision unambiguous; the need for clear reasons becomes greater as the potential in the decision for impact on the parties increases.
    • Resolution: The principle of resolution means that a grievance or complaints handling system should include the explicit authority to provide a monetary or non-monetary remedy or other acceptable resolution to a dispute, in order to restore the party whose rights were found to be infringed, and to allow for closure of the dispute.
  • Making sure that remedies are accessible: Where a complaint or grievance resolution process is not available in a timely way, or where remedies cannot be achieved in practical terms within a reasonable timeframe, the restorative nature of resolutions in human rights disputes may be lost; the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s own documentation on operating procedures in the resolution of human rights complaints can serve as recommendations on making dispute resolution processes transparent and responsive to the needs of stakeholders (see link below).

Useful Tools and Links

Canadian Human Rights Commission

Employment Equity Act

Canadian Human Rights Act

Dispute Resolution Operating Procedures - Canadian Human Rights Commission

Literacy and Access to Administrative Justice in Canada: A Guide to Promoting Plain Language – Council of Canadian Administrative Tribunals

Quality Service - Effective Complaint Management (Guide XI) – Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat


Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Australia, Annual Report 2008

[1] www.ombudsman.gov.au/pages/publications-and-media/reports/annual/ar2007-08/chapter_8/chapter_8a.html

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