first_imgHR faces headache over absencesOn 17 Sep 2002 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos. Thenew code of practice on employers’ sickness records is long, confusing, and hasserious implications for absence management. Paul Nelson reports on how it willaffect HRThepublication of the Information Commission’s code of practice on employmentrecords places a significant added burden on the HR profession.Thedelayed Records Management code outlines organisations’ responsibilitiesconcerning the handling of personal data to ensure they comply with the 1998Data Protection Act, which came into force in October last year.Underthe code, HR professionals must be trained in data handling procedures andensure that line managers receive similar training so that all staff recordsare dealt with appropriately. HR departments will need to introduce a single HRdatabase for staff records, and annually provide employees with a copy of theirpersonal details kept on file. HR and other employees who handle personnel datawill have to sign confidentiality clauses in their contracts.Thecode also gives staff rights to access any information held by the HRdepartment that relates directly to them within 40 days, for a maximum £10 fee.However,the code’s interpretation of how HR should handle sickness records is its mostcontroversial aspect. Althoughemployers do have the right to keep absence records – which was prohibited inthe original draft of the code – they will now need the consent of eachindividual member of staff to record their sickness details.HRprofessionals have reacted angrily to the guidance, claiming it is impracticaland will cause confusion.HRdirector at financial services firm Skandia, Mark O’Connell, is concerned thatthe firm’s system for recording sickness absence breaches the code. Hesaid: “It is ludicrous that we have to keep two separate files and need toask permission to record the reason for absence. It is not very practical. Howcan companies assess if they have an absence management problem?”FrancesWright, HR director at psychometric testing company SHL, is concerned thatmanaging absence effectively could be more difficult following the code’spublication. “HR needs to be able to classify the reason for absence tomanage sickness absence,” she explained.Employerswill find the code’s guidance on sickness absence records confusing and mostwill have to change their policies to comply, according to the CIPD leadadviser on public policy, Diane Sinclair.”Ithink that the level of consent necessary to hold reasons for illness will notbe fully understood by employers. We will look at this practically, but are notentirely happy about the separation between personal and sensitive personaldata.””Thispractice may already exist in some companies, where occupational health departmentsknow why a staff member is off sick, while the HR team only know how long theyhave been absent. But many companies will need to change their practices,”she said.Sinclairstressed that organisations will need to get up to speed on the new guidance.”Itis a bureaucratic burden, but it is good practice and companies will have toget to grips with it,” she said.Employmentlaw expert Lucy Baldwinson, professional support lawyer in the employment groupat Allen & Overy, said the code is a significant improvement on theoriginal draft, but will still pose problems. “The new code offersslightly more flexibility than the Act itself and the original draft code, butit means more administration for HR professionals. It will bring more paperwork as HR professionals will not have made any differentiation between the two[sickness and absence] parts,” she said.TheInformation Commission defended its guidance claiming it is the only practicalway to deal with the twin issues of absence records and individual sicknessdetails. David Smith, assistant information commissioner at the InformationCommission, said: “The law treats the two parts [absence and sicknessrecords] separately, which is why it is sensible to separate them.” The length and usability of the code has alsocome under fire. The Records Management code is 109-pages long – almost twicethe length of the first 56-page code on recruitment. The CIPD’s Sinclairdescribed the code as “excessively wordy”, and added that employerscould be put off by its size.SusannahHaan, legal adviser at the CBI, agreed, claiming the length and complexity ofthe code will stop HR professionals from reading it.Smithdoes not dispute this criticism, but explained that some points under thebenchmark sections are repeated in the code’s checklist to try to make iteasier to follow.Hesaid: “We understand the concern about the length of the code – it is along document. The checklist in all codes essentially repeats the benchmarks,but has been included because we understand that employers find it useful.Although we do accept the concern about the of the document’s length, we neversaid that every word is to be read by business.”Smithannounced that the commission would publish an executive summary document forall four codes including a checklist for employers.Thethird and most controversial code, Monitoring at Work, which in its third andfinal draft introduced e-mails definitions – outlining which e-mails employerscould legally open and when – is expected at end October.Smithstated that the final code on medical records, due out at the end of the year,is far shorter than the other three codes.Nextweek in Personnel Today we will be publishing an at-a-glance guide to theEmployment Practices DataProtection Code Part 2: Employment Records, but youcan view this guide online now at Recordsmanagement codeWhat HR needs to do–Seek staff permission to keep sickness data–Include confidentiality clauses in HR personnel contracts–Provide data handling training for HR and line managers–Include data protection rights in staff inductions–Provide employees with personal details on an annual basis–Introduce a single HR databaseQ&Aon the data protection codes–What is the Data Protection Act?The1998 Act is designed to ensure organisations comply with the eight principlesof data protection. These include processing personal data fairly and ensuringthat this information is held only as long as needed–What is the records management code?Itexplains employers’ rights and responsibilities under the DPA when handlingstaff records–How many codes are there?Thereare four codes. The first code on recruitment was published earlier this year;records management is the second; the third on monitoring is due to be releasedin October; and the fourth on medical records is scheduled for the end of theyear–What happens if you breach the Data Protection Act?Itcould lead to an unlimited fine in the Crown Court, potential liability ofresponsible directors and compensation for the affected employee for damage andassociated stress. Failure to comply could also expose a company to the fullspectrum of employment related claims including sexual, racial and disabilitydiscrimination and unfair dismissal–What is the Information Commission?TheInformation Commission’s role is to oversee compliance with and enforce the1998 Data Protection Actlast_img read more