How far can you go with pre-employment screening?

Over-zealous
investigations of job candidates’ pasts could be an infringement of personal
privacy. So how far can employers go? Kath Burke finds out

Recruitment
is a risky business – you could be welcoming a paedophile, terrorist or
fraudster into your midst.

And
if the role involves close contact with children, access to the secure area of
an airport, or perhaps client contact at a stockbroker’s, you have a legal duty
to check the candidate has told the truth about their past.

Having
said that, strict data protection rules limit the information employers can
collect and hold on job candidates – such investigations should be
‘proportionate’ to the role and over-zealous screening could be seen an
infringement of personal privacy.

And
the Information Commission appears to be cracking down on employers who vet
candidates on medical grounds – under the latest section of a draft code,
employers will not be able to test candidates for drugs and alcohol, or run
genetic tests on them unless there is a very good health and safety reason,
such as fitness to do the job, or to prevent disability bias.

The
final code, due in late February 2004 could be a blow to investment bank ING,
which routinely tests job candidates for drug and alcohol use.

“We
obviously feel that given the industry we’re in you can’t hire anybody without
taking due diligence,” says HR director Mark Staniforth. “That would include
medical evidence of whether there was regular use of drugs and alcohol. But we
always tell people what the test is being used for.”

Data
under fire

Data
protection rules came under fire last month for failing to prevent double child
murderer Ian Huntley getting a job as a school caretaker. The Conservative Party
is calling for a complete overhaul of the law after a local police force
shredded information on a string of sex allegations against Huntley, enabling
him to get the job at Soham Village College. Humberside Police said it
destroyed the information, thinking that it would have contravened Huntley’s
right to privacy.

Smokescreen

But
Information Commissioner Richard Thomas has accused organisations of using the
Act as a “smokescreen” for poor practice. He has, however, strengthened the
Data Protection Helpline to help employers interpret the Act, and has promised
to produce more practical and user-friendly guidance.

An
ongoing, Home Office-instigated, inquiry into the Huntley data mix-up may have
implications for data protection. The Bichard Inquiry is examining how police
handled intelligence about Ian Huntley’s past and how the vetting system failed.

The
low down on criminal records checks

The
Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks candidates’ details against the Police
National Computer for:


all convictions including ‘spent’ convictions


nationally-recorded details of police cautions, reprimands or warnings

Huntley
would have also been checked against the Department of Health and Department
for Education and Skills lists of people deemed unsuitable to work in schools
or with children.

There
are two levels of disclosure – standard and enhanced. The CRB is to launch a
third, basic-level, voluntary disclosure for all other jobs. Candidates will be
able to apply for these direct and might enclose a copy of the disclosure with
their job application.

“It
will simply be another tool to supplement best recruitment practice,” says the
CRB.

Standard
disclosure

The
following jobs may need a standard disclosure:


jobs involving regular contact with children and vulnerable adults


pharmacists, lawyers or health professionals


senior managers in banking and financial services


administrators of justice


national security sensitive posts.

Enhanced
disclosure

For
the following roles, the CRB checks local police force records in case the
candidate has been accused or been under surveillance for child abuse or sexual
offences in the past five years.


Caring, training, supervising or being in sole charge of children or vulnerable
adults, such as school teachers, doctors and nurses, social workers,
scout/guide leaders


registered child-minders, day carers or foster parents/carers


judicial appointments.

Useful
links

For
details of the Bichard Inquiry go to http://www.bichardinquiry.org.uk/notices/

For
more on data protection go to www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk

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