Jul 5, 2018

'PeopleSoft is Hard' is Not an Acceptable Explanation for Violating Employee Rights

Northwest Territories Government v Union of Northern Workers, 2016 CanLII 82442 (AB GAA)

On July 3rd, 2018, in Review Report 18-184 [2018 NTIPC 12], the Information and Privacy Commissioner of the Northwest Territories issued recommendations to the Department of Justice relating to a breach of privacy involving employee data on PeopleSoft.

You see, I was an employee of the Government of the Northwest Territories, and after I left, some . . . irregularities . . . occurred.

For a period in excess of 6 months, I continued to have access to the complete PeopleSoft profiles of my former employees. It also appears that, for the same period, the Government of the Northwest Territories monitored my former Government email without my knowledge or consent. [Update: My email was monitored for 11 months, not 6 months]

While it is not clear why my former Government email was monitored, it appears that it may have had something to do with trying to divert the auto-generated emails that PeopleSoft would send on occasion containing personal information requiring action on behalf of my former employees--emails regarding sick leave, vacation requests, and even, in one case, information about one of my former employee's end of contract. However, despite the efforts to monitor my former Government email, the auto-generated emails from PeopleSoft were instead sent to my home email address because I had set my home email to my preferred email.

Obviously, this amounted to a breach of privacy of both me, and my former employees.

The explanation provided by the Department of Justice:

basically . . . 'PeopleSoft is hard'

It appears that the Department of Justice was under the misapprehension that PeopleSoft allows for an employee to be either active or terminated. So, if an employee continued to be paid for any reason, a manual override would be required, but was not properly done.

The response of the Information and Privacy Commissioner:

"While the [Department of Justice] suggests that this is an "unusual" circumstance in that the Complainant remained on the payroll after his actual employment, I'm not convinced that this situation is all that unique. Many people retire after many years with the GNWT and take unused holidays immediately prior to their retirement, sometimes several months. They are no longer "employees" with any authority or right to have access to the files of those they might have managed, though they will continue to be paid for a period of time after they are no longer in the office. Based on the public body's comments, each one of these people will continue to be associated with a position number so that they can continue to be paid, which means that they will continue to have access to the PeopleSoft information of their former staff and, like the Complainant in this case, would likely to continue to receive automatic notifications from the system about those employees. This is unacceptable."

Everything old is new again:

Incredibly, this is not the first time that the Government of the Northwest Territories has used the 'PeopleSoft is hard' defence. In Northwest Territories Government v Union of Northern Workers, 2016 CanLII 82442, a grievance arbitration on the matter of whether leave balances should be transferable when employees change employment within the public service, the arbitrator was not terribly impressed with the arguments advanced by the Government of the Northwest Territories, and was also very clear about the arguments advanced about PeopleSoft:

"Arguments based on administrative difficulties or the design of PeopleSoft are similarly not persuasive"

If there is one take away from these cases, it is the fact that employees are entitled to what the law requires, not whatever is easiest to do in PeopleSoft. If this entitlement is to a transfer of benefits, or a right to privacy, the 'PeopleSoft is hard' defence should not only not be entertained--it shouldn't be advanced at all.

The conclusion is simple and clear:

Employee rights are defined by law, not by the real or imagined limitations of PeopleSoft.