Data rules could curb staff absence records

New guidance on how employers handle personal information about staff could force companies to destroy files vital to many tribunal cases.

The warning came as personnel professionals and employers angrily lobbied data protection commissioner Elizabeth France in response to the Government’s proposals on the draft code of practice on holding employee information.

The Data Protection Commission plans to release the final version in mid-April.

As it stands the code instructs employers not to hold records about an employee’s sickness or union membership without their permission.

But this data is often vital to employment tribunals deciding cases of unfair dismissal due to sickness absence.

Personnel Today has learned that a legal clash between Home Office and Data Protection Commission regulations caused the flaw.

Diane Sinclair, CIPD employee relations adviser, said, “These regulations are at odds with employment tribunal proceedings and leave employers uncertain about their legal situation.”

Robbie Gilbert, chief executive of the Employers’ Forum on Statute and Practice, said companies would also be unable to keep track of how much parental leave some staff had. He said, “The commission’s failure to consult in depth shows – and if it has consulted it has not listened.

“It is often hard to predict how far down the road any unfair dismissal case will be. Sickness files may need to be kept for some time, and without them it is impossible to work out what actually happened.”

Vance Kearney, vice-president of HR at Oracle, said, “How are we supposed to record how much to pay people who are sick when we cannot keep a record of when they were off?”

By: Richard Staines

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