The Data Protection Act 1998 will finally become law on 1 March 2000 and will make some important changes for employers.
The old law only applied to personal data which was computer processed but now hand-written records which form part of an organised filing system will also be covered. This means that manual personnel records will fall within the ambit of the new legislation giving employees the right to receive a copy of their personnel records on request and to demand that any inaccuracies be removed or corrected.
Employees will also have the right to be told the purposes for which their personal data is being processed, the people to whom their data may be disclosed and information as to the source of their personal data. An employer will not be obliged to disclose information relating to another individual who can be identified from the information, unless that other individual has consented or it is reasonable in all the circumstances to dispense with their consent.
Employees will have the right to be informed of the logic involved in computerised decision making and to require their employer to ensure that no decision is taken which is solely based on automated processing and which significantly affects the employee for the purpose of evaluating their performance at work, reliability or conduct.
Although employers will not be obliged to comply with an employee’s request for information unless it is made in writing and accompanied by a fee up to a maximum of £10, it is unlikely that many employers would consider it appropriate to insist on payment as a condition of providing the information.
The new Act contains restrictions on the transfer of personal data to countries outside the European Economic Area unless the individual has consented to the transfer or the transfer is for the performance of a contract between the individual and the data controller. Employers should therefore ensure that consent is obtained before personal data is transferred unless the transfer can be justified under the terms of the employment contract.