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ARCHIVED - Policy on the Identification of Functions or Positions - Archived Version of 1998

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Effective Date

This policy comes into effect May 1, 1998, and replaces the policy on the same subject dated June 1, 1993.

Policy objective

To ensure that federal institutions, when establishing linguistic responsibilities for a work unit or identifying the language requirements of positions, do so objectively in accordance with the Official Languages Act, particularly section 91 of this Act, and the regulations under the Act.

Policy statement

It is government policy that the identification of language requirements of functions or positions within federal institutions must reflect operational needs. Language requirements must, therefore, relate objectively to the work required of employees or of their work units.


This policy applies to all federal institutions listed in Part I of Schedule I of the Public Service Staff Relations Act for which the Treasury Board is the employer. Other federal institutions must comply with the general principles of this policy.

Policy requirements

Determining obligations

Federal institutions must determine the official languages duties applicable to their operations and consequently establish the linguistic identification of functions or positions. The linguistic obligations flow from the following two requirements:

Communications with and services to the public

Federal institutions must ensure that, where required under the Official Languages Act and its regulations, they have the capacity to communicate with and provide services to the public, both orally and in writing, in the official language of its choice.

Language of work

Federal institutions must ensure that, where required under the Official Languages Act, they create work environments that are conducive to the effective use of both official languages, and accommodate the use of either official language by their officers and employees.

In prescribed bilingual regions, many functions or positions that provide personal or central services, as well as those that are part of the grievance procedure are often identified as bilingual to ensure effective delivery of bilingual services. Other arrangements, such as a combination of English-essential and French-essential positions, are also possible. Functions or positions that provide supervision to subordinates who must work in both official languages, or of both official language groups and whose required language of work differs, must be identified bilingual (see also the Policy Concerning the Language Requirements for Members of the Executive Group).

Establishing linguistic identification

Language requirements

Once their linguistic duties are determined, federal institutions must establish the language requirements that are genuinely necessary to meet these obligations:

  • When the functions must be carried out essentially in English, the language requirement is English-essential.
  • When the functions must be carried out essentially in French, the language requirement is French-essential.
  • When the functions may be carried out either in English or in French, the language requirement is either English or French (either/or).
  • When the functions must be carried out in English and in French and a combination of English-essential and French-essential identifications are not operationally feasible to meet the linguistic obligations, the language requirements must be bilingual.
The use of some stock phrases (e.g., standard greeting formula, referring a person or transferring a call) in the second official language does not justify the identification of a position as bilingual.

Linguistic proficiency

When the language requirements of a function or position are bilingual, federal institutions must determine the level of second language proficiency required in both official languages. The linguistic proficiency must reflect the tasks to be carried out and be such that services of comparable quality are provided in both official languages.

The proficiency levels of a position must reflect not only the functions of the position but also the principle of equal status of the two official languages when exercising the functions. In this context, the proficiency levels required in each official language in a bilingual position will differ only under exceptional circumstances; in other words, one would not require a higher level from one of the two linguistic groups in a comparable situation.

When a manager determines that a position must be identified as bilingual, he must then define the language skills required in the two official languages as a second language as well as the proficiency level required for each skill. For information on how to establish a profile, refer to the Public Service Commission publication Determining the Linguistic Profile for Bilingual Positions.

There are three language skills in English as a second language and in French as a second language: reading, writing and oral interaction.

There are three levels of proficiency for each of the second language skills: A, B and C, with A being the lowest and C the highest.

The code "P" is used to denote specific language skills such as those acquired through specialized training (e.g., shorthand or text editing) or an expert proficiency (e.g., translators or language teachers).

Minimum requirements of positions

Positions providing service to the public or dealing with internal administrative matters such as supervision, personal and central services or grievances must be identified at least at the "B" level.

With respect to the linguistic profiles of positions or functions in the Executive Group, see the specific provisions in the Policy Concerning the Language Requirements for the Executive Group.

Reidentification of language requirements

In any type of personnel action, whether it involves reclassification, reorganization or staffing, managers must review the language requirements of the positions or functions in question. This may result in reidentifying the language requirements or changing the linguistic profile of an occupied position (see Policy on the Staffing of Bilingual Positions for information on incumbents' rights). Staff must then be informed in writing within the ten days following the reidentification of language requirements.

Administrative measures

Should an incumbent fail to meet the language requirements of his position and choose to remain in the position, the institution must put in place appropriate administrative measures to meet its linguistic obligations.


The Treasury Board Secretariat will ensure that this policy is implemented through:

  • monitoring by either the institution, the Treasury Board Secretariat, or both;
  • annual management reports for the Treasury Board Secretariat;
  • follow-up of the reports and special studies done by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages;
  • Position and Classification Information System (PCIS) data.


Relevant legislation

Official Languages Act

Public Service Employment Act

Public Service Staff Relations Act

Treasury Board Secretariat publications

Communication with the Public

Policy on Language of Work in "Bilingual" Regions

Policy on Language of Work in "Unilingual" Regions

Policy on the Staffing of Bilingual Positions

Policy on Language Training

Policy Concerning the Language Requirements for Members of the Executive Group


Please direct enquiries to the person responsible for official languages in your institution. This person may then address policy interpretation questions to the:

Official Languages Division
Human Resources Branch
Treasury Board Secretariat

Appendix A - Manager's Checklist - Language Requirements and Objectivity

The 1988 Official Languages Act contains a specific section, section 91, on the need for objectivity in setting the language requirements of jobs in federal institutions for the purposes of a particular staffing action. Broadly speaking, this section provides that no federal employer may set language requirements arbitrarily in giving effect to the provisions on service to the public or language of work. These requirements must be genuinely necessary to perform the functions of the job being filled.

The Commissioner of Official Languages and the Federal Court of Canada may hear complaints that the requirement for objectivity in section 91 was not met in a particular staffing action.

Manager's checklist

Managers responsible for organizing work units and hiring must not only set language requirements that respond to real job needs, they must also be prepared to support and document the objectivity of their decisions.

The following steps may be helpful when setting language requirements:

1. What obligations does my unit have to serve the public in both official languages?

These duties flow from the Act, its pursuant regulations, related government-wide policies and policies specific to the institutions to which the Act applies. Those documents set out the circumstances in which services must be provided in both official languages. Language requirements for service to the public have to take into account the various ways to deliver service, e.g., in-person, through correspondence, by telephone or information services.

2. What obligations does my unit have to provide an internal work environment conducive to the use of both official languages?

Language-of-work requirements flow from the Act and related policies. The duties in the regions designated bilingual for language of work include providing personal and central services and regularly and widely used work instruments in both languages, and supervision, as appropriate, in both languages, except where the subordinate positions require only the same official language.

3. Given these duties, how am I going to identify the language requirements of jobs in my unit?

Current government policy is to create bilingual positions only in situations where a capacity in both languages is needed for operations and the use of options such as identifying parallel unilingual positions in each language is not reasonably feasible. There are, however, no government guidelines on how to determine how many bilingual employees are needed to carry out a given amount of work in each language. It is up to managers to organize their resources to meet their obligations. In dividing up the work in English and French, managers should follow sound management practices based on their operations and particular situation.

4. For bilingual jobs, how do I determine the second language proficiency requirement?

Managers will find there are government policies as well as a publication issued by the Public Service Commission that describe the functions to be carried out on a job and the general level of proficiency typically required to do them. The second language requirements of a position should normally be the same for each official language (i.e., if the profile in one language is, for example, "CBC", it should be the same in the other language, except in special cases such as the profile for language teachers, editors and writers, where a code "P" must be required in one language).

This process is generally straightforward. However, certain complex cases will require more complicated decisions that may be challenged. The rationale for the decisions at each stage of the process noted above should, therefore, be documented with care.

Remember that complaints may arise contending that the position should be unilingual instead of bilingual, or vice versa. Complaints about bilingual positions may stem from the level of second language proficiency required, as well as from the use or non-use of imperative staffing (see Policy on the Staffing of Bilingual Positions).

In such cases, complaints may question either the objectivity of a manager's decision in setting language requirements or the objectivity of government-wide or institutional policies as they are applied in a particular staffing action. Complaints of this nature are generally addressed to the Commissioner of Official Languages. Any person who has complained to the Commissioner in respect of section 91 of the Act may also apply to the Federal Court - Trial Division for a remedy.