Nunavut’s Department of Human Resources was justified in withholding certain information related to harassment complaints that were filed by a specific group of government workers, according to a ruling by the territory’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.
The applicant had submitted a request in June 2023 seeking records of harassment complaints filed by the specified occupational group within the past two years. They also sought information about the outcomes of these complaints.
Initially, HR refused to comply with the request, claiming that it would require significant effort. However, HR later agreed to release a summary table of information related to the responsive complaints.
The dispute revolved around three key issues:
1. Exemptions applied: The Commissioner examined whether HR correctly applied exemptions under sections 23 and 25.1(a) of the ATIPPA.
Section 23 protects personal information from disclosure when it would unreasonably invade someone’s privacy. Section 25.1(a) allows the withholding of information related to ongoing workplace investigations. HR had cited these sections to deny further disclosure.
2. Obligation to summarize: The applicant believed that HR should provide a more detailed summary or categorization of the complaints.
They requested information such as the nature of the complaints, including whether they involved verbal harassment, racism, constructive dismissal, micromanagement, or other elements. HR argued that such summaries were not required by the ATIPPA.
3. Processing issues within HR: The Commissioner raised concerns about internal processing issues within HR. There was resistance within HR to providing requested records to the ATIPP Coordinator, and it was apparent that HR staff knew the identity of the applicant, which contravened the applicant’s right to anonymity under the ATIPPA.
The Commissioner’s ruling addressed these issues:
- Exemptions: The Commissioner found that HR correctly applied the exemptions under sections 23 and 25.1(a). The closed harassment complaints were not disclosed due to section 23, as redacting them would not be practical. Section 25.1(a) allowed HR to withhold information related to ongoing workplace investigations.
- Obligation to summarize: HR was not obligated to create more detailed summaries or categorizations of the complaints. The Commissioner noted the complexity of harassment complaints and the potential for misinterpretation in creating summaries.
- Processing issues: The Commissioner recommended that HR’s senior management address the resistance within HR to providing records to the ATIPP Coordinator and reminded HR staff of the need to protect the anonymity of ATIPP applicants.
In conclusion, the ruling clarified HR’s obligations under the ATIPPA, affirmed their right to withhold certain information, and highlighted the importance of complying with the legislative rules and protecting the anonymity of applicants.
For more information, see Department of Human Resources (Re), 2023 NUIPC 16 (CanLII)