Timelines for Grievance Processing
This installment of NATCA’s Know Your Rights Series will explain the concept of grievance timelines. In general, all Federal-sector NATCA contracts have similar timelines. Consult your contract for more details. Future installments will address expedited, discipline and adverse action grievances, and national grievances. NATCA representatives and members should be very careful of timeliness when filing and pursuing a grievance. If NATCA misses a deadline, grievances can be lost based on the Agency’s procedural objection of untimeliness.
Regular Contract Violation Grievances
Under Article 9 of the typical NATCA contract, employees or the Union may file grievances using the standard three-step procedure. However, timelines that our reps and grievants are bound by must be kept in mind.
All of the contracts provide that the employee or Union must file a grievance within 20 days “of the event giving rise to the grievance.” The general rule is that the “event” under the contract is the actual date of the harm to the employee. Remember that all timelines come from the moment the Union or grievant “knew or should have known” of the event giving rise to the grievance. The “knew or should have known” standard is that of a reasonable person. For example, if the harm was hidden or concealed then there would be a good chance that the timeline could be extended. In contrast, failure to investigate will likely not allow a timeline to be extended. The “days” are calendar days not work days.
You can request a meeting at Step 1. The Agency must respond within 20 days following a meeting, or 20 days from the date of the grievance. Note that if the Agency does not respond within 20 days of the grievance or meeting, you must keep track of the time and elevate the grievance to the next step within 20 days after the answer was due. Failure to do so within this time frame will cause the grievance to be thrown out as untimely.
This means that no matter what management does at Step 1, the Union must file a Step 2 grievance within 20 days of the date management’s answer was due, whether one shows up or not. The same concepts hold true for the subsequent steps of the grievance process.
In sum, timeliness is a make-or-break issue for successful grievances. Study your contractual timelines, and pay close attention to the dates involved in your grievance. We don’t want to lose by default!