Civilian Classification

Civilian Classification

Civilian Classification

What is Classification?

All positions in the public service are classified in a way that is intended to reflect their relative value, accurately and consistently. Positions that have similar characteristics form occupational groups, and levels of compensation within those groups depend on factors such as intellectual or physical effort, sustained attention, essential knowledge, responsibility for money or other assets, or working conditions including possible health risks.

Classification is not based on an individual’s performance. Rather, it results from detailed analysis of what it takes to do a job properly, and how this compares with the characteristics of other public service positions. In this way, the classification system can contribute to achieving fairness in compensation for people who do work of similar overall value.

Who can classify a position?

The Treasury Board, as a Cabinet committee, is formally the employer of the Government of Canada’s core public administration. Treasury Board authorizes “deputy heads”—usually the Deputy Ministers of departments and agencies—to classify positions in their organizations in accordance with the Treasury Board Directive on Classification.1

The Directive outlines how deputy heads must carry out classification activities. They may sub-delegate their classification authority to employees within their organizations, for example to managers who have been trained in classification or to accredited human resources advisors.

At National Defence, the Directorate of Civilian Classification and Organization is delegated to manage classification. It provides advice and guidance to managers on classification and organizational design, and administers grievances about classification decisions.

When does a classification change?

A position’s classification can only change when there has been a significant and permanent change in its main functions. If the work being done is significantly different from what is described in the last evaluated job description, the job description needs to be reviewed and amended.

How are positions classified?

Classifying a position means answering two basic questions:

  1. What is the work being done? The manager to which the position reports is required to describe the work being done. He or she either writes a unique job description, or selects a similar or generic job description from elsewhere in the department.
  2. How does that work fit within the organization? Once the job description is selected or written, the next step is to understand where the position fits within the organization as well as the department as a whole. This is an important factor in determining the relative value of a position within the organization. For example, an Advisor position reporting to an Assistant Deputy Minister would have greater relative value than the same position reporting to a Director.

The answers to these questions are submitted to the Directorate of Civilian Classification and Organization and assigned to an accredited Classification Officer for evaluation.

For unique positions, evaluation means assessing work against a Job Evaluation Standard (also known as a Classification Standard). These documents established by Treasury Board and are used throughout the public service to ensure consistency in job evaluation. Job Evaluation Standards can be found here 2. The Classification Officer first determines the position’s occupational group—jobs that have roughly the same function (e.g. administrative services or “AS”). The job description is then compared against the Classification Standard for the occupational group, to determine the level within that group (e.g. AS-03). A written rationale is produced, justifying the occupational group and level, and this constitutes the classification decision.

A classification committee may be required to review the decision, including in situations where a reclassification is proposed or when the job description applies to multiple positions.

When the manager has selected a standardized job description, the Classification Officer assesses the work against the organizational context and the applicable Classification Standard to ensure that the selected job description is appropriate within the organization.

Additional Information:

Classification Grievances

Employees who are not satisfied with a classification decision for their own position can submit a classification grievance. This is distinct from a labour relations grievance, and is handled differently. To learn more about classification grievances, click here.

Standardized Job Descriptions

Departments are required to develop and implement standardized job descriptions wherever possible, with unique job descriptions to be prepared only on an exceptional basis. To learn more about standardized job descriptions, click here.

Cyclical Job Description Reviews

Treasury Board also requires that departments review each job description within a reasonable time frame (e.g. every 5 years). To learn more about cyclical job description reviews, click here.




Classification Grievances

Classification Grievances

What is a classification grievance?

A classification grievance is a formal written complaint filed by a civilian employee in objection to a classification decision made on the position the employee holds. It is important to note that classification grievances are not submitted when an employee believes the content of their job description is incorrect; this would be a labour relations issue. Classification grievances are processed separately from labour relations grievances, as per the Treasury Board Directive on Classification Grievances.

How are classification grievances processed?

Employees have 35 days from the date of the classification decision (or when they are made aware of it) to present their grievance. The grievances are presented either through the employee’s union representative or directly to their manager. Their manager then sends the grievance to the Director of Civilian Classification and Organization, who is responsible for the administration of classification grievances for the Department of National Defence.

A committee of three representatives, normally consisting of one representative from Treasury Board and two from the Department of National Defence, is assigned to hear the classification grievance. The aggrieved employee is able to provide representations at the hearing (this can be done through their union representative). The employee’s manager is also made available to the committee, to provide clarification on the job description, as required. The committee then deliberates in camera. A report is written and submitted to the Deputy Minister or their delegate with a recommendation regarding the classification. A written decision is then issued, based on that recommendation. At the Department of National Defence, the Director General Workplace Management has been delegated by the Deputy Minister to respond to classification grievances. A classification grievance decision is final and binding. The only recourse is to apply for judicial review through the Federal Courts.

What is the Ombudsman’s Office involvement with classification grievances?

In 2011, after receiving many complaints about delays in classification grievances, the Office of the Ombudsman began actively monitoring the issue. In his 2012-2013 Annual Report1, the Ombudsman noted that there were approximately 250 grievances awaiting a hearing, and that none had been completed within the prescribed 80-day time limit.

Between 2013 and 2015 the Ombudsman continued to monitor the situation and his staff met with a number of senior officials. The Department of National Defence committed to improving the process, including hiring classification consultants, scheduling more grievance hearings, and instituting a classification transformation program.

On 1 July 2015, Treasury Board issued a new Directive on Classification Grievances that places greater emphasis on accountability and compliance.2  Even with this new Directive, the Office of the Ombudsman continued to receive complaints related to lengthy classification grievance delays. These delays continue to have a real and lasting impact on civilian employees of the Department of National Defence.

On 20 June 2016, the Ombudsman informed the Deputy Minister of National Defence3 that the Office would be investigating the overall administration of classification grievances. The investigation revealed that the Department has made progress on the backlog; however, the majority of grievances were still not being resolved within the 80-day time limit. This represents an unfairness for employees wishing to avail themselves of the classification grievance process.

While the Ombudsman and his staff continue to address the systemic issues outlined above, investigative staff are working to review and resolve individual complaints of unfairness within the classification grievance process.

How can the Ombudsman’s Office help?

If you feel you are not being treated fairly within the classification grievance process (eg, if you are experiencing an unreasonable delay), or if you would simply like more information, please contact the Office of the Ombudsman by any of the convenient ways listed below.

Also, please visit this page for updates to the progress and improvements to the fairness and timeliness of the classification grievance process.


  2. Directive on Classification Grievances
Standardized Job Descriptions

Standardized Job Descriptions

What are Standardized Job Descriptions?

Historically, the vast majority of Public Service positions have had their own, unique job descriptions. A lengthy process of writing a job description and then having it classified had to be completed in almost every case.

More recently, there has been a shift toward using the same job description for more than one position. As this practice evolved, a number of terms were used to describe it, including: collective work descriptions, generic work descriptions, and standardized job descriptions.

On 1 July 2015, Treasury Board issued a new Directive on Classification, which places greater emphasis upon the use of standardized job descriptions in the Public Service. In fact, the Directive states that managers are responsible for implementing appropriate standardized job descriptions, wherever possible.1

Standardized job descriptions are similar to other job descriptions; however, they are designed to encompass a large number of positions, where employees carry out the same work in the same organizational context, but in different parts of a department.

The Directorate of Civilian Classification and Organization within the Department of National Defence evaluates the use and appropriateness of standardized job descriptions and ensures that job descriptions remain current. However, managers are still required to regularly review standardized job descriptions linked to positions under their purview to ensure they match the work performed by their employees2. There is, however, no mandatory timeframe governing the frequency of such reviews.

The department has committed to increasing the use and number of standardized job descriptions. There are approximately 24,000 civilian positions in the Department of National Defence. Currently, there are over 11,000 unique job descriptions and nearly 400 standardized job descriptions. Standardized job descriptions can be found in the departmental Civilian Job Library, on The Defence Team Intranet3.


  1. Directive on Classification  
  2. Directive on Classification  
  3.  - Available only from the Defence Wide Area Network (DWAN)
Cyclical Job Description Reviews

Cyclical Job Description Reviews

Cyclical Job Description Reviews

On 1 July 2015, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat issued a new Directive on Classification, which states that organizations must ensure “job descriptions are reviewed within a reasonable time frame (preferably in five (5) year cycles).”

At the Department of National Defence, managers are required to verify how up-to-date the job descriptions are for the positions they manage on three occasions: “a) prior to any staffing action; b) when there is a change in duties or in reporting relationship; and c) at a minimum once every 5 years as long as the position is occupied.”1 The department has committed to reducing the number of job descriptions that have not been reviewed in the past 5-10 years for encumbered positions.

The Directorate of Civilian Classification and Organization monitors job descriptions through the Human Resources Management System. They also produce status reports that are provided to senior management on a regular basis. As of June 2016, approximately 59% of job descriptions were overdue for their cyclical review. Using these reports, managers are expected to prioritize job description reviews and, where appropriate, use standardized job descriptions.

Delays in the cyclical review of civilian job descriptions have been raised as a concern by civilian employees during this Office’s outreach visits. Many job descriptions are reported as being out-of-date or as not reflecting the reality of the work being completed.

Should you feel that your job description does not reflect the work assigned to you, or the duties performed by you, the first step is for you to engage your supervisor in a discussion about your job description. If you have additional questions or concerns, or would simply like more information, please contact us.

To learn more about standardized job descriptions, please click here.


  1. DCCO BULLETIN No. 19 Position Life-Cycle – note: this bulletin is currently under review due to recent changes in TBS Directive on Classification.
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