Absence leave rules would cause chaos

So far all the publicity surrounding the problems of data protection in the workplace have focused on whether or not employers will be permitted to monitor their employees’ e-mails. This focus on the more sensational issues regarding data protection in the workplace, those that relate to e-mail or internet abuse, have distracted attention from other proposals which could have a much more serious impact on employers.

Buried in the Data Protection Commission’s proposals for a code of practice on holding employee information is the instruction to employers not to hold records on an employee’s absence record without the individual’s consent. Naturally the CIPD and employers’ groups have lobbied against this becoming part of the final code during the consultation period that ended earlier this month.

It is tempting to look at this proposal and say, “They couldn’t make it up.” The idea that any employer should be left open to the possibility, however unlikely in practice, that they will be unable to record an employee’s absence will be absurd to employers and staff alike. The management implications of having no evidence on paper of an individual’s absence record or potentially of absence rates throughout the organisation do no bear thinking about.

But if that were not enough, the inability to keep absence records would make it impossible for employers to gather evidence for employment tribunals and, as a result, put organisations in an untenable situation. And, as the Employers’ Forum on Statute and Practice has asked, how will companies be able to record parental leave?

It is absolutely essential that the Data Protection Commission throws it out before launching the final draft of the code later this year.

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