Ottawa rejecting many expense claims from public servants with Phoenix payroll problems
One unpaid employee asked for $1,042 to cover interest charges and was paid back $6.76
- After this story was published, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat provided updated numbers.
- From September until June 26, 2017, the claims made totalled $686,820.55.
- The amount reimbursed totalled $110,669.80.
Federal government officials promised they would reimburse public servants for out-of-pocket expenses directly caused by Phoenix payroll woes, but the government is denying much of what's being claimed by employees, documents show.
Given the magnitude of the Phoenix payroll problem, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat created a process last September to pay back workers for expenses such as interest charges on credit cards, bank penalties from insufficient funds and fees for withdrawing investments early.
Documents obtained under the Access to Information Act show that over an eight-month period between September and April, civil servants submitted more than 460 expense claims totalling more than $430,000.
Wow, what a slap in the face this represents for our members.- Emmanuelle Tremblay, president, Canadian Association of Professional Employees
Less than $44,000 had been reimbursed by the government, about 10 per cent of the amount public servants had asked for, records show.
CBC News has not been able to determine the exact reasons why the claims have been rejected.
The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) said some of the claims have been denied because workers wanted to be reimbursed for outstanding balances on credit cards, car payments, and medical or dental fees. Other claims were rejected because workers requested reimbursement for missing out on investment opportunities. In some cases, claims for interest on credit cards or lines of credits exceeded the net amount owed to the employee.
"For example, if an employee is owed $1,000 but submits a claim for interest on a credit card balance of $5,000, only a partial payment on that claim will be made based on the $1,000 the employee is owed," wrote the Treasury Board in a statement to CBC News.
The most common claims approved or partially reimbursed are for accrued interest charges, banking fees and accounting fees, according to TBS. Claims for late payment charges, penalty fees and private insurance premiums have also been paid, it said.
Emmanuelle Tremblay, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, said she wants the government to fully explain why some workers are only receiving a fraction of the money they requested.
"If the employer's basically turning around and saying, 'You know what, I'm going to be cherry picking what I reimburse and what I don't reimburse,' — it's unfathomable," she said. "Wow, what a slap in the face this represents for our members."
The record of claims obtained by CBC News reveals reimbursements varied dramatically from one case to another.
A Parks Canada worker who wasn't getting paid asked for more than $1,042 to cover interest charges. But the government only partially approved this request and paid back $6.76, according to the claims log.
In another case, an Environment and Climate Change Canada employee submitted a claim for close to $7,000. It was to cover banking fees, penalties and interest charges that resulted from not being paid properly, according to the claim. The government denied the request entirely, according to the documents.
A Health Canada worker in a similar situation was reimbursed for the full amount that was claimed, $528.
The Treasury Board said claims cannot be compared to each other, and are assessed individually on their own merits. Considerations include how much pay workers were shortchanged, whether or not they received an emergency salary advance, and whether or not their claim was based on debt exceeding what they were owed in missing pay.
Officials also try to provide the benefit of the doubt and help workers find ways to verify claims when documents are not provided, TBS added.
'It's pretty discouraging'
For public servants in the process of filing claims, it's raising concerns.
"I'm shocked," said public servant Caroline Guay who is working closely with her bank to submit a claim. "It's pretty discouraging to see that 90 per cent of this is not being addressed."
Guay has racked up "a massive amount of debt" during her 15 months dealing with Phoenix pay problems. Some months she was shortchanged up to $700 a paycheque, which forced Guay to dip into her line of credit that was supposed to be for renovations on her home. She also increased the limit on her credit cards and paid extra interest.
Today she's expecting to finally see her first accurate pay cheque. She's "delighted," but said there is still a "Phoenix cloud" hanging over her that she wants to be compensated for so she can get out of a financial hole.
"We know we're not going to get compensation for the anxiety and stress, but it would be nice if they would just cover the interest we've had to incur because of debt," said Guay.
Half of claims fully reimbursed
In response to a request for more information, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat provided CBC News with an updated number about how many cases have been handled.
As of June 26, nearly 1,000 claims have been filed for out-of-pocket expenses as a result of the Phoenix pay system.
- Fully paid: 52 per cent.
- Partially reimbursed: 32 per cent.
- Fully denied: 12 per cent.
- In progress: 4 per cent.
'There are criteria'
Treasury Board president Scott Brison said "it is our desire and intention to help" with out-of-pocket expenses caused by Phoenix.
"There are criteria that have to be met to qualify," Brison told CBC in Nova Scotia. "We believe those criteria are fair."
The criteria include proving that Phoenix is responsible for losses. Claims before Phoenix was implemented are not eligible. Emergency salary advances also may affect cases. The department said each claim is assessed on its own merits.
"It is completely unacceptable for public servants to either be paid inaccurately or not on time," said Brison. "We are frustrated and we will fix the Phoenix pay system. It has been one of the most difficult, IT systems issues that any government has had to deal with."