Want to work in a shop? You may be vetted
Workers accused of theft or damage could soon find themselves blacklisted on a register to be shared among employers. It will be good for profits but campaigners say innocent people could find it impossible to get another job.
To critics it sounds like a scenario from some Orwellian nightmare.
An online database of workers accused of theft and dishonesty, regardless of whether they have been convicted of any crime, which bosses can access when vetting potential employees.
But this is no dystopian fantasy. Later this month, the National Staff Dismissal Register (NSDR) is expected to go live.
Organisers say that major companies including Harrods, Selfridges and Reed Managed Services have already signed up to the scheme. By the end of May they will be able to check whether candidates for jobs have faced allegations of stealing, forgery, fraud, damaging company property or causing a loss to their employers and suppliers.
Workers sacked for these offences will be included on the register, regardless of whether police had enough evidence to convict them. Also on the list will be employees who resigned before they could face disciplinary proceedings at work.
The project has attracted little publicity. But the BBC News website can reveal that trade unions and civil liberties campaigners are warning that it leaves workers vulnerable to the threat of false accusations.
TUC policy officer Hannah Reed says that while criminal activity in the workplace can never be condoned, she fears such a system is open to abuse.
WHAT WILL GET YOU ON IT
Theft or attempted theft of money, merchandise or
property from company, suppliers or customers
Falsification or forgery of documents
Fraudulently obtaining money, services or information
Damaging company property
"The TUC is seriously concerned that this register can only lead to people being shut out from the job market by an employer who falsely accuses them of misconduct or sacks them because they bear them a grudge. Individuals would be treated as criminals, even though the police have never been contacted.
"The Criminal Records Bureau was set up to assist employers to make safe appointments when recruiting staff to work with vulnerable groups. The CRB already provides appropriate and properly regulated protection for employers. Under the new register, an employee may not be aware they have been blacklisted or have any right to appeal."
James Welch, the legal director of human rights group Liberty, also says that he is concerned that the register does not offer sufficient redress to the falsely accused.
"This scheme appears to bypass existing laws which protect employees by limiting the circumstances when information about possible criminal activity can be shared with potential employers."
The register is an initiative of Action Against Business Crime (AABC), which was established as a joint venture between the Home Office and the British Retail Consortium "to set up and maintain business crime reduction partnerships". The Home Office says it stopped funding the scheme last year, having granted it almost £1m during its first three years. A Home Office spokeswoman says the register is a "commercial scheme" and it was not consulted.
Selfridges has signed up
Set up by Surrey-based firm Hicom Business Solutions, the database will allow employers to search for potential workers by name, address, date of birth, national insurance number and previous employer.
Records on individuals - accessible online via an encrypted password system - will be kept for a five-year period and can include photos.
Mike Schuck, chief executive of AABC, says that theft by members of staff costs the British economy billions of pounds each year and rejects the notion that the register is a blacklist.
He says that all participating companies will be obliged to abide by the Data Protection Act and that workers named on the database, maintained by AABC, will have the right to change their entries if they are inaccurate.
Should a dispute take place between an employee and an employer about whether an incident occurred, Mr Schuck adds, the worker will be able to appeal to the Information Commissioner's Office.
"We are limiting access to the database to employers who can comply with the Information Commissioner's employment practices code," he says. "We're not going to allow Mr Smith's hardware store. We're quite open about this. People will be told when they apply for jobs that they may be checked as part of the application process.
"Theft in the workplace hurts staff as much as employers because it puts everyone under suspicion."
Nonetheless, many workers may get a nasty surprise when old allegations return to haunt them when they next apply for a job.
Below is a selection of your comments.
This is appalling. I know of a girl falsely accused of stealing by an employer because she refused his advances. If this database goes live innocent folk like her could be blacklisted. This should be stopped now. Too many innocents could be caught up in it. only those convicted of dishonesty or assault on co-workers should be included. Innocent until proven guilty.
Carol Jay, Grangemouth, Scotland
At the age of 18 I was falsely accused of taking money from a till while working in a nightclub (and searched in front of my colleagues, but that was another matter). I left the job immediately after this incident feeling humiliated and disgusted. The idea that someone could use a false accusation like this (which, as anyone knows who works in retail or leisure knows is a common occurrence) against me in securing future employment is disgusting. Especially when a criminal record doesn't stop someone being employed. All it will do is leave more young people unemployed and feeling hopeless.
Surely this can't be allowed under the Data Protection Act. Putting the issues of ex-employers with a grudge, the implications for fraud are horrendous. How can employers disclose so many personal details about human beings without their permission. ID fraud is possible with much less information than is supposedly being put on this website; and presumably without the employees consent.
Stuart Hunter, Cambridge
You can ask they remove your details under the Data protection Act:
Right to prevent processing likely to cause damage or distress (1) Subject to subsection (2), an individual is entitled at any time by notice in writing to a data controller to require the data controller at the end of such period as is reasonable in the circumstances to cease, or not to begin, processing, or processing for a specified purpose or in a specified manner, any personal data in respect of which he is the data subject, on the ground that, for specified reasons -
(a) the processing of those data or their processing for that purpose or in that manner is causing or is likely to cause substantial damage or substantial distress to him or to another, and (b) that damage or distress is or would be unwarranted.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply -
(a) in a case where any of the conditions in paragraphs 1 to 4 of Schedule 2 is met, or (b) in such other cases as may be prescribed by the Secretary of State by order.
(3) The data controller must within twenty-one days of receiving a notice under subsection (1) (¿the data subject notice¿) give the individual who gave it a written notice - (a) stating that he has complied or intends to comply with the data subject notice, or (b) stating his reasons for regarding the data subject notice as to any extent unjustified and the extent (if any) to which he has complied or intends to comply with it.
In a recent well publicised case, a shop manager for a large company was sacked for giving away a bunch of flowers that were due to be thrown away. She was accused of theft. There would be nothing stopping a company from blacklisting people for similar reasons, leaving the blacklisted with no redress. At the same time, we all know those employees responsible for huge thefts and loss making will seldom have their details added to any blacklist for the simple reason that the companies they have defrauded will not want the publicity it would attract.
John Bunnett, Swansea
This may have very unpredictable results. Only the police should have possession of this type of information. Already, completely innocent people get blacklisted by credit agencies for the wrong reasons. From an employers point of view, while I would like to know whether someone has been caught stealing during their previous employment, there's a simple way of checking, just call up the previous employer to see what they were like. That is after all what references are for in the first place.
Brian, Dublin, Ireland
This is crazy. It's bad enough that CRB checks (entirely sensible for working with children and vulnerable adults) have crept into virtually very job making the Rehabilitation of Offenders legislation a virtual waste of time. Now a private concern can cause misery by blacklisting someone over what can be very subjective views. The majority of employers are small firms. What is to stop an employer with a grudge, or an employer after a bust up with faults on both sides, just entering the ex-employee on the list and ruining their life? Yes, you can correct it, but by then the damage is done you've lost that job you were shortlisted for or spent months having CVs rejected before you knew why. Indeed, how will an employee get access to the database.
The concept is fine and will be a useful tool for employers with their suitability checks on would-be employees. BUT any individual suffering because of an incorrect/false entry on the database must have full redress - including the right to sue for defamation against the old employer, the AABC and Hicam Business Solutions.
John Andrews, London, England
I left a local council on entirely amicable grounds at the end of a temporary contract. However, one of the senior staff there obviously did not like me and despite handing I a glowing personal reference, when I was offered a job in another council and they contacted my past employer, the job offer was withdrawn because of comments made. A couple of years later, I was offered another job and that to was withdrawn at the last moment; because information had that had been received from somebody. Legal challenges got me nowhere. Sorry to delude people but this immoral practice already goes on, blacklist have been around for years, they are just not in the public domain. The CRB is an acceptable method of checking people's suitability; any other unregulated authority is immoral, will be open to abuse and should be outlawed.
Neal Underwood, Harrow
I own a retail business, I wouldn't employ anyone who has stolen from a previous employer or damaged the property of a previous work place. But what happens if one of my existing staff turns up on the data base? Is that grounds for a sacking?
Steve, Stockport, Cheshire, England
About time employers had a means to see if a prospective employee is worthy of employment. A bit miffed as to why something like this hasn't happened until now. If someone says that they feel like they're being treated like a criminal then that is more than likely because that they are in fact, really are a criminal. Now, all we need is something just like this but in regards to illegal migrants and the means to report those attempts an illegal migrant makes to gain employment. Big brother state? I'm all for that as at the end of the day, it makes society safer and fairer and gives criminals a harder time; if you have nothing to hide then why should you be worried?
To Les in Elgin, do you have curtains? Do you close them? Why? What do you have to hide?
Silas, London, UK
This is crazy, we live in a country where we are "innocent until proved guilty", this scheme blows that out of the water. If the police can not convict someone then there can be no slur on an individuals name.
Peter Gansbuehler, Swindon
Blacklisting - great scenario: much profit for lawyers and profits down for all of society, because people who are not proved guilty are nevertheless not earning so they cannot spend. Capitalism; you know it makes sense. Cheap foreign (illegal) labour? Anything about you in print is subject to data law; it can be reviewed and corrected. Refusal to employ on the basis of suspicion is harder to stop, but such employers will get the staff they deserve in time. So, we could have shops staffed only by those with enough nerve and PC clout to fight, whether honest or not. That makes sense - sure it does. Secondly, when do we get a register of all the bullies and perverts who use seniority at the workplace? When THEIR misdemeanours are "proved"? Thank goodness I'm not 25 again.
Mike Bovingdon, London
This is not funny. When I was a teenager, I was convicted for GBH in a fight. Nobody got hurt, a couple of bruises on each of us, but never the less I was convicted. Here we are 22 years later, I am grown up married with a family and a responsible member of society. Last year I lost my job with a local council over the incident, it was devastating. This database will only marginalise people in society and lead to more crime as these people will feel unemployable.
The cry in favour of the erosion of our civil liberties used to be "The innocent have nothing to fear". Well now it seems they do. A single malicious individual can destroy someone's career. And there are people like that in even large and well respected companies. An absolutely disgusting example of the increasingly paranoid culture that successive governments have forced upon us.
There should not be an appeals process, an entry should not be made until it has been fully investigated. The damage that could be done in the interim could be to severe to rectify, the implications have the potential to be absolutely horrendous. Most people have had at least one nightmare boss, imagine if that person could mar you for the rest of your life? This is worse than 1984.
Lisa Ford, Telford, Shropshire
I would be interested to see the reaction of employers should a similar website be launched containing information about employers' mistreatment of staff - including discrimination, bullying, unfair terms and conditions, outrageous pay rises for principal staff whilst below-inflation rises are given to general workers etc.
In 2004 I was dismissed from a teaching job in a school for "gross misconduct". They had to use that charge to get rid of me. I had made serious allegations against my employer to a number of authorities. After my dismissal I took that employer to the Employment Tribunal and won unfair dismissal on 14 different counts and also won under the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblowing) Act. For performing this painful public service will I now be on a list that makes me unemployable? The government should make such a list illegal. But they won't. The UK is becoming a truly horrible place to live.
I'm a headhunter, and try quite hard to get the facts on people and know I don't get the whole story. That's with individual checks done one by one. A mass database cannot hope to get all its records right. But the Data Protection Registrar is the least effective regulator in Britain. None of the high profile data breaches have caused them to do anything more than send a friendly e-mail asking "you Ok mate ?" to the HMRC and the various banks who have shown a cavalier attitude to personal info. The idea that they can regulate this sort of business is like a blind traffic warden in Baghdad.
Dominic Connor, London
I certainly do not agree with this as employers will stick together and ultimately it will be the word of the employee against that of the employer, so how can an employee prove the allegations are false???. I can see legal actions being brought as a result of this register. This could be an employers way of getting back at someone they don't like.
Karen Morgan, Cardiff
Is there any requirement for an individual to be notified that they appear on the database? If not they may never know that they are on it and as such won't think to challenge the information stored. It sounds like a formalised old boys network.
Mick, Basingstoke, UK