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Ben Jones
Ben Jones, UK Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 50173
Experience:  Qualified Employment Solicitor
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I was recently dismissed by my employer. During the

Customer Question

I was recently dismissed by my employer. During the disciplinary process I disclosed that I was a victim of domestic abuse and was working with social services. When I was told I was dismissed I was in some shock and HR got the Occupational Health nurse to talk to me. She asked if she could call my GP to set up an appointment and I said yes. My GP at the appointment informed me the OH nurse had informed her that I had been dismissed and the reason for the dismissal. Later that afternoon social services called me and told me the OH nurse had been in touch and told them I had been dismissed and the reason for the dismissal.Is this a breach of my confidentiality? I did not give the occupational health nurse permission to disclose this information. I also did not give her any indication there was a threat to my children or family.
Submitted: 11 days ago.
Category: Employment Law
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 11 days ago.

Hello, my name is***** am a qualified lawyer and I will be assisting you with your question today.

Expert:  Ben Jones replied 11 days ago.

I presume this has just had an emotional impact on you, rather than a financial one?

Customer: replied 10 days ago.
it has primarily caused a great deal of anxiety and distress as the information will get to my wife who has a history of domestic violence and abuse. I also fear the information will be used against me in an upcoming divorce.
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 10 days ago.

Thank you. Your rights will depend on whether this was something which the employer held on their files and systems, or just a verbal piece of information.

If they had noted this down as part of your personnel file and it formed part of written data held about you, then there could be a potential data protection breach on their part.

However, if they only knew about this verbally and it was then again only passed verbally to others, it would be more difficult to challenge.

If this was written data, The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) outlines certain principles for data controllers to adhere to when they process an individual’s personal data. If a party has acted in contravention of the DPA, the person whose rights have been breached could potentially make a claim for damages.

The first step is to consider reporting the alleged breach to the Information Commissioner’s Office. They are the regulatory body that deals with data protection breaches and have certain powers at their disposal to deal with them. However they will not award compensation to the victim so the only way to try and do this is by going through court.

To be able to claim compensation the victim must usually show that they have suffered financial damage as a result of the breach. However, a recent ruling said that damages for distress can also be made even if no financial losses have been suffered. As this is quite a recent development the practicalities of doing so are yet to be considered.

So if there have been financial losses or just distress suffered, the case can potentially be taken to court. I would not recommend that this is done straight away and suggest trying to reach some kind of compromise with the violating party. However, if that is not possible and court appears to be the only recourse then this page contains useful information on how take a claim for data protection breaches to court:

http://legalbeagles.info/data-protection-act-taking-a-case-to-court/

I trust this has answered your query. Please take a second to leave a positive rating by selecting 3, 4 or 5 stars above - this is an important part of our process and recognises the time I have spent assisting you. If you still need me to clarify anything else, please reply on here and I will assist as best as I can. Thank you

Customer: replied 10 days ago.
Thanks Ben. I disclosed in writing as part of my evidence during the disciplinary that I was a victim of domestic abuse, so HR will have had a copy of it.I am trying to work out if the Occupational Health nurse who disclosed that I was dismissed and the reason for dismissal to Social Services and my GP could argue she was acting in a safeguarding capacity. It is the only defence I can think of that they might try to use. But I do not believe the OH nurse had enough information to make that call.
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 10 days ago.

It may indeed be a relevant point she could raise. She does not need concrete proof to have done it, having a genuine concern that it was the case could be sufficient. Sometimes people try to be helpful but in the process end up doing the exact opposite unfortunately. It is not the strongest of cases to pursue though as there are potential grounds on which it could be justified so be aware of that before you decide on whether to take it further or not

Customer: replied 10 days ago.
Well this is the crux of my question. It seems a little wooly that she could divulge sensitive information on a whim. I have looked at the Royal College of Nursing guidelines and they state:If the person claiming confidentiality presents a threat to the public interest, they will not be entitled to rely on the protection of the law. An example of this, is highlighted in case study one W v Egdell [1990] 1 All ER 835. Three principles emerge from the case:
1 a real and serious risk of danger to the public must be shown for the exception to apply
2 disclosure must be to a person who has a legitimate interest to receive the information. For example, in Egdell the court indicated that it would have been a breach of confidence to have disclosed the information to the press
3 disclosure must be confined to that which is strictly necessary (not necessarily all of the details).Based on this I am not convinced points 1 and 3 are satisfied.
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 10 days ago.

No, this would not qualify in your case as you were clearly not a public threat. Another possible exception however is “if disclosure is clearly in the patient’s interest but it is not possible or is undesirable to seek consent”. Whether she can argue that is another issue, but I do not think this is something that should go to court, at best it should be dealt with by the regulatory body, such as the RCN.

Customer: replied 10 days ago.
But the RCN is unlikely to offer compensation.
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 10 days ago.

no they will not do that, but what I am saying is that this is not a clear cut case and there are risks involved with going to court, so you have to decide whether to take this and claim.

Customer: replied 10 days ago.
The company has just responded to my query about the breach.Dear XX,
I write to follow up the concern you raised within your letter, in which you suggested that there had been a serious breach of confidentiality, namely that “We informed Social Services of [your] dismissal and the reason for the dismissal.”
Having carefully looked into this matter, I can categorically state that we did not inform Social Services of your dismissal, nor did we inform them of the reason for your dismissal. In fact, we have not contacted Social Services at all about your employment.
Our occupational health providers, Health Management Limited (‘HML’), contacted Social Services because they were concerned about your health and wellbeing, but we understand they did not disclose the reason for your dismissal.
As such, I confirm your suggested breach of confidentiality is incorrect.
Regards,
HR
--------This concerns me, as I was never assessed by their 3rd party HML, had no contact with them and certainly never gave them consent to talk to anyone. It feels like the employer is hiding behind a 3rd party. Do I have any rights here?
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 9 days ago.

Your rights have not changed from what we discussed earlier. It is still going to be a data protection breach pursued through the courts or something you have to take up with the regulatory body

Customer: replied 7 days ago.
Ok thanks. If I am going to pursue this do I go after my employer or the 3rd party they hired for occupational health? The letter from HR feels like they are trying to shift the blame/accountability. I was never aware there was a 3rd party outsourcing occupational health.
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 6 days ago.

Technically speaking it is the third party you would be pursuing as they were the ones who breached the confidentiality here, not the employer. Hope this clarifies?

Expert:  Ben Jones replied 4 days ago.

Hello, I see you have read my response to your query. Could you please let me know if it has answered your original question? You can either reply on here with a quick ‘Yes, thanks’, or select 3, 4 or 5 stars on this page. I can still answer follow up questions if needed to clarify anything for you. Many thanks

Expert:  Ben Jones replied 2 days ago.

Hello, not sure if you are having trouble seeing my posts? Do you need any further assistance or are you happy with the response to your query? I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks