Termination warranted for filing false data

The grievor was terminated for making up reports rather than completing her quota of surveys. The arbitrator found that her length of service and clean record could not mitigate because the employer's reputation was on the line.

A survey worker was fired after it was discovered that she filed false data.

J.P. was employed as a Field Interviewer by a federal agency. J.P. had about three years’ service when she was fired in August 2006. There were no complaints about J.P.’s work up until that time.

Field Interviewers gather household and employment data in an assigned area for the national Labour Force Survey (LFS). Accurate data sets are critical for managing welfare, pension and unemployment programs. Public policy is also shaped according to information on household spending that is gathered to create the national Consumer Price Index.

The reputation of the Agency rides on the accuracy and reliability of its LFS.

In the spring of 2006, J.P.’s failure to include telephone numbers as required caused delays and led to “late filing concerns.” Consequently, J.P.’s work on a household spending survey was red-flagged. As a result, a supervisor undertook to check on J.P.’s work.

Anomalies

The supervisor’s review revealed significant errors in J.P.’s work. Demographic data — specifically with reference to the age, gender and numbers of residents — filed by J.P. did not match up with what the supervisor found when she went out into the field. J.P. also misidentified many buildings as being vacant or under renovation.

A conference call was convened to investigate the anomalies. J.P. and her union representative participated in the teleconference along with two employer representatives.

J.P. insisted that she did not willfully enter false data.

The employer did not accept J.P.’s assurances. J.P. was fired.

The union grieved.

The employer stressed the importance of the LFS and the obligation on Field Interviewers to provide correct data. The employer said that the evidence established that J.P. deliberately entered false data on at least seven occasions.

J.P.’s actions constituted serious misconduct and a fundamental breach of trust, the employer said. Interviewers work independently and without immediate supervision. Complete trust is an essential element of the employment relationship. In response to such a serious breach, progressive discipline was inadequate. Termination was warranted, the employer said.

The union argued that the grounds for termination as spelled out in J.P.’s termination letter were vague and imprecise. The union said that the anomalies that were discovered could very well have been mistakes or errors made in good faith. In the event that J.P. was guilty of misconduct, termination was too harsh in the circumstances and the penalty should be reduced, the union said.

The Arbitrator disagreed.

“Crazy or difficult to deal with”

The case in question was not about an isolated incident or event but, rather, about several incidents of alleged falsification of data.

The Arbitrator acknowledged J.P.’s — and the union’s — efforts to challenge the charges made against her, but her accounts lacked any supporting evidence.

“It is rather difficult for me to accept that it was a mere coincidence that all seven cases failed to give a telephone number and that five of them had residents that, according to [J.P.], were either ‘crazy or difficult to deal with.’”

The employer proved its allegations that J.P. entered false data into the LFS and that she had no reasonable explanation for doing so, the Arbitrator said.

“The examination of the seven cases revealed a great number of anomalies and errors such as wrong ages, wrong counts of people or wrong marital statuses. Thus, the grievor’s conduct constitutes, on balance, negligence and a breach of trust. The employer was justified in disciplining her,” the Arbitrator said.

The union raised concerns that missing or destroyed evidence prejudiced J.P.’s case and that the charges against her had not been properly made out. The Arbitrator dismissed those arguments.

“I conclude that, by her actions, the grievor has broken the necessary bond of trust between her and the employer. As [her supervisors] stated during their testimonies, the field interviewer job is largely based on the honour system, and the employer must have absolute confidence in employees carrying out the related responsibilities. During the hearing, the grievor expressed that she was no longer seeking reinstatement because she no longer trusted the employer. In the final analysis, this case displays a complete breakdown of the employment relationship.”

The grievance was dismissed.

Reference: J.P. (Public Service Alliance of Canada) and Statistical Survey Operations. Roger Beaulieu — Sole Arbitrator. Ray Domeij for the Union. Karen Clifford for the Employer. June 22, 2012. 23 pp.

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