If a federal civil servant has to shoot a gun as part of his duties, the job description should say so explicitly, a labour arbitrator has ruled.
The decision also said that Ottawa can't define a person's job by what they are not supposed to do, because that would give bosses open-ended opportunities to assign new responsibilities.
The arbitrator ordered that the job description of the employee who made the complaint be amended, which would enable him to ask that his job be reclassified to a higher wage level.
The unusual case dealt with a Fisheries and Oceans employee whose duties involved supervising part-time staff and having to shoot seals in windy, icy terrain.
The employee, Pierre Carter, is an aquatic science technician at a research centre in Mont-Joli, a coastal town on the estuary of the St. Lawrence River that is a base for researchers studying North Atlantic seals.
At a hearing of the Public Service Labour Relations Board this spring, Mr. Carter said he spent 80 per cent of his time in a lab. The rest was in the field, travelling by helicopter or small planes, treading on ice floes, shooting seals to collect tissue samples, or drugging them and hauling the animals, weighing several hundred pounds, onto a boat.
It was the first time a federal public servant complained that his job description failed to mention the need to use firearms, David Girard, a representative of the Public Service Alliance of Canada who argued the case in arbitration, said in an interview.
Mr. Carter's supervisor told the hearing that Mr. Carter had to use firearms only part of the time and that the .270, .243 and .222 calibre rifles he had to learn to shoot were just tools of the trade in the job.
"It is true, as the employer said, that a firearm can be a tool of the trade, but this tool is substantially different from a fishing rod, a net or a row boat," arbitrator Renaud Paquet wrote.
"Canadian laws require users to follow a firearms safety course and obtain a firearms possession license. Mr. Carter had to earn those qualifications and skills to do his job and that should be reflected in the 'skills' part of his statement of duties. It doesn't matter that Mr. Carter only uses a firearms a few weeks a year. He has to have to have those abilities on an ongoing basis."
Mr. Carter also complained in his grievance that he had to supervise interns, students or temporary staff. His job description said only that he didn't have to supervise permanent employees.
Mr. Paquet sided with Mr. Carter. "It's not good enough for the employer to write that an employee doesn't have to do something … and use that to deduce that he should do other things."
That finding is crucial because it was the first time that a federal worker had to deal with a job description that defined the duties in a negative fashion, Mr. Girard said.
"It was an abusive way of proceeding if you had to find a second or third meaning to the statement of duties."
The ruling was written last month but not widely released yet pending translation from French.