Outrage in UK over staff blacklisting database

12 May 2008

Last week the announcement that several UK retailers were collaborating on compiling a database of employees dismissed over suspicion of theft or fraud caused furore amongst the public, trade unions and civil liberties groups.

The database is the brainchild of Action Against Business Crime (AABC), the national organisation for Business Crime Reduction Partnerships in the UK, and is due to go live later this month.

Employees who are dismissed for dishonesty or who resign before they can be dismissed will be added to the National Staff Dismissal Register (NSDR), which can be searched by prospective employers when conducing a background check on a job candidate.

Acts that can get an ex-employee put on the register include theft or attempted theft of money, merchandise or property, falsification or forgery of documents, fraud, causing a loss to the company or causing damage to company property.

Controversially, people added to the register will not have had to have been convicted or even charged in court with the alleged acts – the suspicion of the former employer is enough to have somebody included. Critics have suggested a person’s career prospects could be devastated by unproven accusations as a result.

The contentious database appears to have state blessing as AABC is a partnership between the British Retail Consortium and the Home Office.

The UK privacy watchdog Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has no problem with the database, arguing that companies will not be allowed to use an entry on the register as the sole reason to deny a job applicant employment. It also said people must be informed when they are being added to the database and have a right to appeal.

The ICO said it has worked closely with business technology firm Hicom Business Solutions, which is managing the database.

Employers will be able to search for job candidates by name, address, date of birth, national insurance number and previous employer.

The British Trade Unions Congress (TUC) has criticised the database plan.

“While criminal activity in the workplace can never be condoned, the TUC is concerned that this register could lead to people being excluded from the job market by an employer who falsely accuses them of misconduct or sacks them because they bear them a grudge,” commented TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber.

“The Criminal Records Bureau was set up to assist employers to make safe appointments when recruiting staff to work with vulnerable groups and already provides appropriately targeted and effectively regulated protection for employers.”

Paul Kenny, general secretary of GMB, a major union for shop workers, commented: “The fact that the elite who run the companies that run the stores would even contemplate going down this road with the connivance of government shows how far public policy has drifted away from norms of fairness and due process. There will be an enormous kick back against this and as a major union for shop workers GMB will lead the charge.

“There is every scope for people to be stitched up and getting them on a register like this is tantamount to ensuring they’ll never work again,” he added. “Employers faced with employees stealing from them have the same recourse as everybody else to the courts. This lynch mob register should not be used by reputable employers.”

GMB threatened to take action against employers that used the NSDR.

The NSDR is supported by major UK retailers such as Harrods, HMV, Mothercare and Selfridges, as well as human resources company, Reed Managed Services.

AABC said the database is necessary to reduce the £497m sterling it estimates is lost to UK businesses each year due to employee theft and fraud.

Opinions voiced on British online publications and blogs last week overwhelmingly condemned the NSDR. Some commentators have suggested the database could end up with those companies that use it being sued for defamation.

By Niall Byrne