Despite stolen employee data, UVic named top employer in B.C.

School's thorough reaction to information theft indicative of quality workplace: employee

For the third year in a row, the University of Victoria was named one of the best places to work in the province.

UVic earned the honour despite the recent revelations that almost 12,000 current and former employees were at risk of identity theft after sensitive data was stolen from the school.

The prestigious B.C. Top Employers list was released on Feb. 3.

UVic made the cut based on the benefits offered to employees, not what happened to their personal info.

“I always try to default to what we write about. It’s an inventory of best practises and benefits and benefits programs,” said Richard Yerema, managing editor of Canada’s Top 100 Employees, a Mediacorp Canada publication. “But of course nothing exists in a vacuum. … When we come across negative stories, which we do, we pay attention.”

The list says UVic is a top employer because of helpful retirement planning, support for new and expecting parents and employee development programs.

Christopher Parsons, a UVic PhD candidate with a background in digital privacy was among the employees whose info was stolen. He says the school’s actions after the breach are more indicative of UVic’s qualities than the fact the theft happened.

“It says an awful lot about the employer. … They were pretty public with all their aftermath. That indicates the employer is concerned about its employees,” he said. “A lot of companies are less forthcoming when these data breaches occur. A disaster happened, but UVic has done exactly what it was supposed to do. They’re being serious, and they appear to be diligent about it all.”

Ryan Berger, a privacy expert who sits on the Canadian Bar Association’s freedom of information and privacy section, agrees. He says the biggest challenge UVic faces in the wake of the data breach is rebuilding its reputation – being named a top employer may help.

“You have more than 11,000 UVic employees that are not very happy with their employer right now,” said Berger, a partner with the Vancouver law firm Bull, Housser & Tupper.

He suspects UVic’s quick response to the theft contributed to its placement on the top employers list.

“I know some people have a different view of that,” he said. “In my view, UVic acted faster than a lot of other organizations have, when faced with a privacy breach.”

The university’s associate vice-president of human resources says the school appreciates the positive ranking, and says he believes the school has acted in the best interest of its employees as a result of the breach.

“From the people I’ve been talking to … they’re all acknowledging that we’ve done all we can to assist those affected by the breach,” said Kane Kilbey. “It speaks to UVic as an employer, and it speaks to the fact that we put people first.”

The Saanich police investigation into the Jan. 7 or 8 break-in at UVic is ongoing. Most of the electronics taken were recovered on Jan. 20, save for the device containing the unencrypted confidential employee information.

In addition to an internal review, UVic has asked former information and privacy commissioner, David Flaherty, to conduct an external review into how personal information is secured on campus.

The province’s current information and privacy commissioner is also investigating the incident.

AbeBooks, Schneider Electric and the Vancouver Island Health Authority are some of the other Greater Victoria companies named to the Top Employers list, which features 60 B.C. businesses.

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