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  • Giv Us a Job…

    Posted on March 9th, 2009 admin No comments


    Destined for the shredder?

    Destined for the shredder?

    A recent decision by the Information Commissioner could have personnel departments sharpening their shredders.


    The ruling means that unsuccessful job applicants have a right to see limited details from the CVs of the other candidates for the job.

     The issue was raised by the complainant, who worked for Leicester City Council, and applied for two internal vacancies, unsuccessfully.

    The applicant then asked for information relating to the recruitment process, including copies of the application forms submitted by the other applicants, suitably redacted as necessary.

    Officials at the Council refused the request for the application forms, on the grounds that the Section 40(2) exemption applied.

    The Commissioner decided that the exemption at section 40(2) applied in respect of some of the application form information, but that it did not justify withholding all the information.

    He considered that some information about the other applicants’ experience and qualifications could be provided in an anonymised form, without breaching their rights under the Data Protection Act.

    The Commissioner has told the Council to provide this information to the complainant, either by redacting the application forms so that all information from which a candidate could be identified was removed or by supplying brief summaries of applicants’ experience and qualifications.

    In the ruling it was stated the applicant had applied for two vacancies that were Head of Department posts.

    In relation to Post 1 there were 12 applicants, 2 of whom were internal applicants. 9 applicants were interviewed (including the 2 internal applicants). An external applicant was appointed.

    A total of 15 people applied for Post 2, 4 of whom were internal applicants. 9 applicants were interviewed (including 2 internal applicants). Again an external applicant was appointed.

    The Council argued that disclosure of the information could have a detrimental effect on its ability to attract suitable applicants for future jobs, as they might be deterred from applying by the thought of their application information becoming publicly available. It said this would have a knock-on effect for the quality of service delivery.

    But the Commissioner rejected these arguments and stated in his ruling: “The Commissioner has concluded that it would not be unfair for the Council to provide a very general summary of the successful applicants’ experience and qualifications, along the lines of the “pen portraits” found in conference speaker biographies.

    “The Commissioner does not consider that it would be necessary to identify particular educational establishments but that qualifications should be described. Similarly, it would not be necessary to name previous employers, but rather give a general description of them together with an indication of the role(s) fulfilled.

    “Turning to the Council’s argument that it would be relatively easy to identify the unsuccessful applicants from redacted information about their experience and qualifications, the Commissioner appreciates that unsuccessful applicants may not wish the fact of their application to become widely known.

    “However, he does not consider that the Council has demonstrated how individuals could be identified from suitably redacted application forms or summaries of experience and qualifications.

    “He considers that were the Council to summarise the application information, the information itself would not constitute personal data and that the number of applicants for each post, taken with the fact that only a minority of them were internal applicants, would make it unlikely that an individual could be identified from the information.”

    The Council was also ticked off for not offering the applicant an appeal after his initial application for the information was turned down.

    It said to him in a letter: “The Council does not have an appeals process for this because it puts all its expertise in getting the decision right first time. While this guarantees that the best decision the Council can make is reached to the same standard every time, it also means that there is then no suitable person to review the decision should a complaint arise.”

    Editor’s note: This decision looks set to shed some more light on the recruitment process but has the potential to generate a great deal more work for personnel departments as they have to deal with information requests from unsuccessful applicants. The issue of how long personnel departments hold on to the details of job applicants after a post is filled could soon be a hot topic.




    Read the decision notice HERE.



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