What does your record say about you? Michael Archer of solicitor Beale & Company explains your rights of access to information held by your employer
Sorry, Star Trek fans – this article is not about Mr Data, the Starship Enterprise's favourite android. Instead, it concerns personal data – that is, information referring to living persons as defined in the Data Protection Act 1998 – and the rights of workers to access that part of it that is held by an employer, whether past, present or prospective.

The term "worker" includes unsuccessful job applicants as well as permanent and temporary employees and casual staff, freelancers and so on. Such workers have a right to access all information about them. This includes, for example, sickness records, disciplinary or training records, appraisals or performance review notes, recruitment notes, emails, word-processed documents, email logs, audit trails, as well as more general information regarding their contract of employment, pay and holiday records.

The right of access applies to all information, no matter how it is stored, whether in paper or digital form – provided it is in a "relevant filing system", which covers all structured paper and processed records.

The one occasion when records may be withheld is where they disclose information concerning a third party and the privacy of that third party outweighs the worker's access rights.

It is not advisable to access your personal data as an exercise in fishing for compliments – but your rights could prove valuable

If you want to review the records about you kept by personnel, you put in a request – preferably stating whether you want to see all records held about you or just information regarding a specific area. The employer has 40 days from the receipt of your request to produce your records. This will usually be in paper form, and the employer is permitted to charge up to £10 to cover its administrative costs. Many employers take the full 40 days to produce the records.

Why would you want to do this? Obviously it is not advisable to take advantage of these rights in order to cause your employer difficulties, or as an exercise in fishing for compliments. But your access rights could prove valuable, particularly if you feel a decision made about you, or the treatment you have received, may have been based on incorrect information.

Examples include situations where you have been unsuccessful in applying for a job or promotion, where you fail to achieve the bonus or pay rise you were expecting, possibly after an appraisal, or where you have taken time off work due to illness or other reasons.