Information Commissioner’s ruling could open doors to claims from failed job candidates

Job candidates may be allowed to see other applicants’ details, including interview notes, following a decision by the Information Commissioner (IC) against Leicester City Council.

The IC ruled that a council employee, who had applied for two internal vacancies, had the right, under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, to see various details of other candidates as long as their identities were kept secret. The complainant had his request for information about the recruitment process and other candidates turned down by the council.

It said it could refuse the request on the grounds of an exemption as detailed in section 40 of the FoI Act.

But the IC decided that the exemption applied to some of the details in a job application, but not to all of it.

“Some of the information about applicants’ experience and qualifications could be provided in an anonymised form, without breaching their rights under the Data Protection Act 1998.”

The IC has told Leicester City Council to provide the information requested “either by redacting (editing) the application forms so that all information from which a candidate could be identified was removed, or by supplying brief summaries of applicants’ experience and qualifications.”

Rebecca Fox, employment solicitor at Matthew Arnold & Baldwin, said the judgment “should be viewed with importance by employers”.

“This decision states that the information from interviews, and the interview selection process, should be readily available to applicants, save for any identifying personal details. This means that employers need to be careful not to put anything in their notes about applicants that could give rise to a claim in the employment tribunal. For example, any comments about the applicant’s suitability for a position due to their age, sex, race, religion or any disability could see the employer facing a claim for discrimination.

“Awards for successful claimants in discrimination claims are uncapped. It is, therefore, important that any criteria for assessing applicants is fair and non-discriminatory. Employers should ensure that any notes made in interviews are suitable to be shown to the unsuccessful applicants after the event.

“Employers should remember that it is important to take detailed notes during the interview process in case there is any claim made by unsuccessful applicants to justify the [organisation’s] appointment of the successful candidate and this case should not be seen as a deterrent to the note taking process.”

[Headline edited in light of comment from Will (below) on 23 Jan 2009, 12:46pm]

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