Information and privacy: an introduction
Employers have a right to collect and retain certain information about you, as well as monitor you in the workplace. This may be for the purposes of the business, or for legal, tax or criminal reasons.
Because this information is often sensitive, your employer is legally bound to make sure it is kept safely and used for specific purposes as defined by UK law.
An employer doesn’t need consent to take information about an employee, but they do need to inform the employee what that information will be used for.
Your rights regarding data protection mean that:
- you have the right to see records held on you;
- your employer must keep accurate records;
- you can claim compensation if your employer breaches the Data Protection Act;
- you can request that a particular piece of information about you be destroyed (such as out of date medical information).
Cameras and recording devices
If your employer informs you that covert cameras and recording devices are being used, as well as the reasons behind using them, they are allowed to have them in the workplace and use them to monitor staff.
Screen-checking software allows managers to observe your computer screen remotely and is covered under health and safety law, which states that “no checking facility can be used without the consent of the operator”.
If you think you are being too closely monitored in the workplace, contact your UNISON rep, who can advise you on your specific situation.
Seeing your records
You have a legal right to see any records held about you by your employer. Your employer must give you access to your records within 40 days of your request.
Pre-employment information gathering
Before you start a job, you may be asked for personal details and for references. Your employer may also check your criminal background in certain cases, for example if the job involves working with children. This is known as pre-employment vetting and is different from standard data collection because employers may be asking third parties for sensitive information about you.
In this case, you should be informed of what that information is to be used for, and employers should destroy the documents when they are no longer needed (within six months).
- Members have the right to privacy and protection of sensitive personal data.
- You are usually required to supply a reference from a previous job to any job you are applying for.
- Recruitment information about you must be destroyed within six months of collection.
- You may ask for certain information about you to be destroyed.
Information and privacy
What if I feel stressed because of CCTV and monitoring software at work?
Your employer must have very good reason to use covert surveillance equipment, even if they inform you. Contact your local UNISON rep, who can help you speak to your employer about the issue.
Can my employer keep old information about me?
You may request that your employer destroy specific information and they must oblige unless they have a legal reason to keep it. This may include out of date information about you. If any documents are to be destroyed, you should make sure that your employer disposes of them appropriately (such as shredding).
What if my potential employer finds incorrect information about me?
As a potential employee, you should be allowed to defend against or dispute any false information that may lower your chance of getting the job.
What information can my potential employer ask for?
Your employer may ask for reference details from previous employers. This may include sickness or absence details and information about your work. In some cases your employer may need to ask the Criminal Records Bureau for a record of your criminal background. This is known as a CRB check.