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Employers moot snitching on workplace bullies

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The operator of a new private database that allows big shops to share information on suspected dodgy staff is holding talks with major corporations to expand into other industries.

Early adopters in the retail sector are also trialling the system with a view to collecting data about other alleged transgressions such as violence and bullying in the workplace.

Insurance, banking, pharmaceutical and hospitality companies have all come forward to express interest in joining the "National Staff Dismissal Register" since it was launched in May, according to Action Against Business Crime (AABC), the consortium behind the project.

Chief executive Mike Schuck told The Register that gambling industry firms are the closest to signing up to share data on sacked employees.

Unions and civil liberties groups slammed retailers back in May for joining the register. The TUC's general secretary Brendan Barber said: "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."

A leading defamation lawyer meanwhile warned that employers could face costly libel lawsuits for effectively publishing unproven allegations.

Undeterred by criticisms, Schuck said this week: "I do expect that many [of the current negotiations] will be translated into new members." He cited an anecdote from a prospective insurance industry member, which discovered that a worker defrauded it of £50,000 soon after beginning his contract. The company contacted police and his previous employer, which reported similar dodgy patterns in its accounts.

AABC says businesses can avoid losses from fraud by sharing information before new staff are taken on.

Its register, outsourced to Surrey IT consultancy Hicom Solutions, is now up and running, with seven High Street members including HMV and Selfridges. Human resources departments are to be trained in how to run checks against the database. No figures are yet available on how many individuals are so far covered, nor how many job applicants have been refused work on the say-so of a former employer.

According to AABC, expanding the National Staff Dismissal Register to other industries does not mean the project will require further scrutiny from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). The watchdog was involved at the planning stages and says in an FAQ on its website: "The employer reporting data to the register should be sure that there will be an adverse effect between what the individual has done and their employment in a similar capacity. In other words, does it render them unsuitable for employment? Dishonesty, theft, fraud etc. are all obvious factors which may be relevant."

Companies using the register have to comply with the Data Protection Act and must tell job candidates if their employment background is being probed. Details of sackings are held for three years or five years in "special circumstances".

Any move to record and share information on dismissals stemming from violence or bullying would prompt AABC to seek an ICO greenlight, Schuck said. AABC plans to assess the register's impact in its current form after about a year before taking any decision on adding different types of dismissals.

However Schuck argued that indirect losses from workplace employment tribunals could make pooling bullying and violence dismissals just as useful for employers as sharing information about direct losses attributed to alleged fraudsters. "If the employer is at risk this is entirely valid," he said. ®

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