Information My Employer Has About Me: A Case Study
Like many people, Pauline Russell was aware that her employer held personal information about her. She assumed this information was secure and correct; but when her employer disciplined a colleague in error because of a mix up in the personnel records, Pauline thought she’d check the details in her own file.
Gaining Access“I had no idea how to ask to see the personal information my employer had about me. My friends at work were equally in the dark. The problem was that my company was a large organisation and divided into distinct departments. Only rarely would someone at my grade have any contact with someone who worked in another section.
“I therefore asked my line manager what to do. This type of request was obviously new to her and she wasn’t that helpful. In fact, she suggested I shouldn’t bother human resources with what she called a ‘pointless exercise’.
“Undeterred, I checked the internal list of employees, and sent an email to the head of HR. In the email, I simply asked to see my file. A week went by without a reply.
“This lack of courtesy annoyed me. I did some research on the Internet and came across the Data Protection Act. This gave me the encouragement I needed to write a further email to the head of HR, this time quoting my rights under the Act.
The Administration Fee“Early the following week, my line manager took to me one side and asked why I had sent the email. This took me by surprise because I had still not received a formal reply. I said that I simply wanted to use my legal right to check the personal information the company held about me.
“My manager was clearly unhappy with this, and I guessed that the head of HR had asked her to stop my enquiry. She told me that if I wanted to pursue the matter, I’d have to pay an administration fee of £10.
“By now, my growing annoyance had turned to determination. I reached into my purse, gave my manager ten pounds, and asked for a receipt. I then sent a third email to the head of HR explaining what I had done, and once again asking to see my file.
Reviewing the File“Two days later, my manager received a phone call that she passed to me. Someone from HR told me that I should come to the human resources department at two o’clock that afternoon to view my file. The assistant told me that under no circumstances could I remove anything from the file or tamper with it in any way. I should also bring proof of my identity.
“This all seemed fair enough: after all, personal information should be held securely and according to strict rules. When I saw my file at last, however, I was shocked. The papers were not in chronological order, and I couldn’t find items I had been expecting to see.
“To be specific, I had anticipated reviewing my original job application; my bank details for my salary; the letter I had sent about my change of address and surname when I had married six months ago; and my yearly appraisal sheets going back to the time I had joined the company five years before.
“The letter about my change of address and surname was missing, and there was no sign of the last two appraisal sheets. I immediately spoke to the HR staff member nearest to me. He didn’t seem too surprised with what I told him.
“He proved to be very helpful, however. He went searching through a filing cabinet and found some loose papers stacked at the back. Within these, he discovered my letter and the missing appraisals. He put these into the file, rearranged the order, and arranged for me to sit in an empty room where I could continue reviewing the information in privacy.
Final Action“The details in the now completed file were much as I had thought. From this perspective, I was satisfied. I wanted to raise the matter of the missing papers and poorly organised file, however, and I sought the help of the HR assistant I’d seen earlier. He suggested I write a further email to the head of HR, explaining what I’d found.
“I was sceptical, but sure enough within a week I had a polite reply from HR. This said the department intended to improve its collation of personal information. Unexpectedly, I also received my £10 back.
“My advice to anyone who wants to see the personal information a company has on them is therefore simple: persist!”