UBC employees from 1992 to 2016 owed millions in unsent paycheques

If you worked for UBC sometime in the past 25 years, you might be missing a cheque. The good news is that if you are, it’s easy to find — and it’s since accumulated interest.

The university noticed in the summer of 2016 that thousands of paycheques, dating back to 1992, hadn’t been paid to their intended recipients.

After conducting a payroll review, UBC paid all 1,431 current employees the $981,000 they were owed. The remaining 13,395 cheques — worth a total of $3.47 million — were transferred to the BC Unclaimed Properties Society (BCUPS), where former employees can enter their name to see if they’re owed money.

A packet of background information on key issues in BC higher learning, given to The Ubyssey by Vancouver journalist Stanley Tromp, prepares incoming BC NDP Minister of Advanced Education Melanie Mark to talk to the media about the missing money.

“If Pressed: The University of British Columbia has many visiting scholars, sessional instructors, student employees and other part-time temporary workers who may be unaware a cheque is missing,” it reads.

Mark’s office declined to comment.

Trish Pekeles, UBC’s executive director of financial operations since June 2016, came across the missing cheques, which were sitting in locked cabinets, just after she started.

“As I looked at this I realized ... that something was wrong,” she said.

Pekeles said most of the cheques were the first that employees would have received — they were written for those who didn’t fill out their direct deposit forms in time. She isn’t sure why the cheques weren’t picked up.

When asked for an interview, VP Finance Andrew Simpson referred questions to Pekeles. Pierre Ouillet, UBC’s VP finance from 2009 to 2014, did not respond to a request for comment.

“We did phone, we did try and email, we did contact departments,” she said. “We did every effort we could.”

Everything, she said, except mailing them out. Pekeles has since introduced a new policy where cheques are now sent to employees if they’re not picked up within two weeks.

The government document says UBC’s review found that cheques were “stored improperly,” a comment Pekeles took issue with.

“I can assure employees that the cheques were properly stored in locked cabinets and kept in a secure location to ensure employees could be duly paid when they came to claim their cheques,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “Having said that, we agree with the ministry’s note that storing paper cheques for that length of time is not good practice.”

Pekeles said she is working with faculties to ensure new employees are signed up with direct deposit as soon as possible, which resulted in a “dramatic reduction” in the number of cheques sent out during UBC’s September hiring wave, according to her.

The BCUPS is sending letters to former employees who are owed money.

Martin Livingston, who manages communications for the society, said he couldn’t provide an update on how the search was going because UBC transferred the money to the BCUPS through the Employment Standards Branch (ESB) of the provincial government — meaning UBC’s unclaimed cheques were lumped in with the rest of the money that the BCUPS receives from the ESB.

Most cheques were under $500, according to the document, but Pekeles said UBC added interest, compounded annually using the Bank of Canada’s rate.

“We wanted to make sure not only did we get people their money, but that we made them whole,” she said.