DISCOUNT RETAILER Lidl has admitted to keeping detailed medical records on its German employees after files detailing therapy sessions and artificial insemination appointments were found in a skip.
The revelation in yesterday’s Der Spiegel could damage further Lidl’s reputation in Germany, a year after it was forced to admit using detectives and hidden cameras to spy on German employees.
After the revelations in March 2008, the publicity-averse company went on an unprecedented damage-limitation offensive.
Executives said the spying was the work of maverick managers and an over-eager store detective, and would never happen again.
But a 300-page file discovered in a skip in the western city of Bochum suggests otherwise, using templates from the company computer system.
As well as turnover figures for 60 Lidl stores, the file contains detailed, handwritten notes on the health of 500 employees – from May 2008 to the start of 2009.
An illness file on one female employee begins with an appointment in June 2008 for “artificial insemination (unsuccessful)”. Later entries note absences due to “flu”, “bronchitis” and “treatment in a neurological clinic”.
In September 2008, the employee was absent because of “high blood pressure – collapsed several times”.
The files are apparently kept by managers for their monthly meetings with regional managers.
“If the weekly absentee rate is too high, the question arises: which of the employees is really sick and who’s skiving off,” said a manager to Der Spiegel.
The revelations have prompted furious reaction from unions and data protection groups in Germany.
Sick notes do not need to state the reason for the absence from work; only after six weeks’ sick leave in a calendar year may an employer invite an employee to discuss whether working conditions have contributed to the absence.
Lidl has admitted the records are genuine, but said it was in the process of disposing of the files after a review of the data it keeps on employees.
The documents discovered in the skip in Bochum were “improperly disposed of” by an employee, it said.
Legal experts quizzed by Der Spiegel disagreed over whether the medical information collected in the files breached German labour and privacy regulations.
Lidl has 8,000 stores and 150,000 employees worldwide. A third of its employees work in the home market, where Lidl Germany has a turnover of €14.9 billion.
After last year’s spying revelations, the company was fined more than €1 million.