Paralegal in a pickle spells trouble for recruiters

A recruiter who decides to hang on to a candidate’s phone number before leaving for a dream job should think again…

On 9 September 2014, the Information Commissioner’s Office secured the criminal conviction of James Pickles for unlawfully taking the personal data of more than 100 clients. Mr Pickles was a paralegal at a law firm. He sent six emails to himself shortly before leaving the firm to join a competitor. The emails contained personal client data that he had intended to stockpile for later use. Sound familiar? Mr Pickle was convicted and given a fine.

This problem is acute in the recruitment industry. It is common to find consultants switching jobs or setting up on their own, spurred on by the lure of increased salary or commissions. And many of them cannot resist the temptation to retain a copy of their live jobs or an extract of the candidate database to help them obtain a kick start in their new role.

The database stores the value of the business. It records and identifies opportunities and potential revenue streams. It is a magnet for unscrupulous employees who often consider the relationship with a client or candidate their relationship and who feel entitled to keep a copy of the data that they have spent many days, weeks, even years collating.

Unlawfully obtaining or accessing personal data is a criminal offence under section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998 and gives rise to a fine of up to £5,000 in a Magistrates Court or an unlimited fine in a Crown Court. There is no question that the ICO is looking at the recruitment sector. There have been two prosecutions in as many months of recruitment businesses that have failed to notify the ICO that they are processing personal data.

The case of Mr Pickles acts as a warning sign for recruitment businesses as much as it does for their consultants. Recruitment businesses also have obligations under the Data Protection Act: they must take steps to actively manage and protect their database and the personal information contained within it – treating it responsibly, securely and fairly and putting in place the right legal and technological infrastructure to keep the information confidential and secure.

For more information, please contact Hugo Plowman

Click here to find out about Mishcon de Reya’s Recruitment Services Group.