Harrods and Selfridges unite to join staff blacklist

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The Independent Online

Harrods and Selfridges are among two of Britain's best known high street businesses to have signed up to a controversial database for blacklisted staff that could affect the careers of three million workers.

Under the privately run scheme, the names and personal details of former employees whose behaviour has offended the companies will be placed on the newly created National Staff Dismissal Register.

While some employees whose crimes are prosecuted in court will have a chance to defend themselves, other staff may never know their behaviour has found its way on to the register or that they have become a blacklisted worker.

Seven businesses have so far signed up to the register, which went live last month, according to the scheme's organiser, Action Against Business Crime. They include Mothercare and Reed Managed Services.

Yesterday, politicians and lawyers condemned the database and called on the Government to bring in immediate safeguards to protect employees. The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman in the House of Lords, Baroness Sue Miller, said it was "a disgrace that the Government has ignored the rights of employees while private businesses have established a blacklist with no safeguards for the employees put on it".

Baroness Miller added: "A website run for profit is trying to take the place of police, prosecution, judge and jury. There need to be stringent safeguards put in place on this blacklist.

"Employees should not be placed on the register until they have been given the opportunity to object. The burden must be on employers to prove an employee's guilt before they are entered on the register."

But Action Against Business Crime says the register will comply with data protection legislation and will hold details of individuals who have been under investigation for acts of dishonesty. "This information is shared with other members of the register who are able to access the national system to search for details of an applicant, ensuring both cost saving through reduction in losses, and a more efficient recruitment process," said Action Against Business Crime.

Selfridges said last night that any offence that was sent to the register would be properly investigated and that appropriate efforts would be made to notify the former member of staff.

A spokeswoman for Harrods, which is owned by Mohamed Al Fayed, said the company had agreed in principle to sign up to the National Staff Dismissal Register.

She added: "Our existing internal disciplinary procedures ensure that no person subject to a frivolous or malevolent allegation would find themselves on the register.

"We believe that our involvement with the scheme will give extra reassurance to current staff and customers alike."

But Kerry Waters, an employment rights expert at Clarions Solicitors, said that the register was potentially "wide open to abuse, with little detail being provided by the Action Against Business Crime Group as to how (or even whether at all) the register will be policed or monitored."

She warned that one "minor blip" on someone's record "could wreak havoc with their career".