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The Employer’s Handbook to Data Privacy Compliance in the Workplace

March 7, 2024 | Jessica Wisniewski

The Employer’s Handbook to Data Privacy Compliance in the Workplace

Employer data protection is constantly developing, with new challenges and opportunities arising every step of the way. This involves artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and blockchain.

Employers must, therefore, adhere to different employer data protection frameworks depending on their location. For instance, in the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) applies, whereas in the US, it is the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). 

Similarly, in India, the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) is among the relevant data protection laws.

In this blog, we will explore some key employer data protection insights. We will also discuss GDPR compliance, US regulations, data breach prevention, and the best practices for data protection.

It will help you understand the importance and implications of securing data for your business, so you can develop a watertight strategy for the same.

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Data Protection: An Overview 

Data protection is a crucial part of any business, especially in the digital age. Today, employers have to deal with various types of data. It may be personal and sensitive data related to employees, customers, partners, trade secrets, intellectual property, and financial information.

While data protection is a legal obligation and provides employers with a competitive advantage, it is also complex and dynamic, with different laws and regulations across regions and jurisdictions.

Adhering to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is one of the most comprehensive and challenging data protection laws in the world. It affects any organization that processes the personal data of individuals in the EU, regardless of where the organization is based.

The GDPR aims to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals concerning their data. It imposes various obligations on employers, such as –

  • Obtaining valid and informed consent from data subjects before processing their personal data, or relying on other lawful bases. This could include a legitimate interest, a need for a contract, or a legal requirement.
  • Employing Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs) for high-risk processing activities. It includes profiling, automated decision-making, or large-scale processing of sensitive data, and consulting with the relevant data protection authorities (DPAs) if necessary.
  • A data protection officer or representative in the EU is required if an organization monitors data subjects regularly, processes large-scale or sensitive data, or is mandated by national law.
  • Report data breaches directly to suitable authorities and affected individuals.
  • Avoid processing activities that may harm individuals’ rights and freedoms.
  • When transferring personal data outside the EU, comply with data transfer rules by using adequate security. It involves getting an adequate decision for the third country or region from the European Commission.

Penalties for non-compliance may include audits, investigations, inspections, warnings, reprimands, orders, and administrative fines. These are up to 20 million euros, or 4% of the global annual turnover, whichever is higher.

Employers have to ensure that they comply with the GDPR and that they can establish their compliance through documentation, records, and policies. Besides, they must monitor the changes and updates in the relevant laws from time to time. 

Apart from that, they are responsible for monitoring the guidance and decisions issued by the DPAs and the European Data Protection Board (EDPB).

What Employers Need to Know of the Fragmented Framework of US Data Protection?

Unlike the EU, the US does not have a federal data protection law that applies to all sectors and industries. Instead, the US has a patchwork of federal and state laws and regulations governing different data protection aspects.

Some of the federal laws that affect employers are –

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) 

It regulates the privacy and security of individuals’ health information, and is applicable to health plans, healthcare providers, healthcare clearinghouses, and their business associates.

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA)

It regulates the privacy and security of consumers’ financial information. It applies to financial institutions such as banks, credit unions, securities firms, insurance companies, and their service providers.

Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) 

It governs how the personal information of children under 13 is collected, used, and disclosed. It also covers owners of websites, online services, and mobile applications that target children or gather data about them.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) 

It regulates consumer credit information collection, use, and disclosure. This act applies to consumer reporting agencies. It includes credit bureaus, background check companies, tenant screening services, and their users, such as employers, lenders, and landlords.

In addition to the federal laws, many states have enacted their own data protection laws and regulations. These may vary in scope, applicability, and enforcement.

Some of the state laws that affect employers are:

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) 

It grants various rights to consumers concerning their personal information. It includes the right to know, access, delete, and opt out of the sale of their personal information.

This applies to businesses that collect, use, or share personal information about California residents and meet certain thresholds.

It has annual gross revenues of more than 25 million dollars and the personal information processing of more than 50,000 consumers, households, or devices, or derives more than 50% of its annual revenues from selling consumers’ personal information.

The New York Stop Hacks and Improve Electronic Data Security Act (SHIELD) 

It protects the security, confidentiality, and integrity of the personal information of New York residents.

Additionally, it notifies the relevant authorities and individuals in the event of a data breach and applies to any person or business that owns or licenses computerized data. This includes the personal information of New York residents, regardless of where the person or business is located.

The Massachusetts Data Security Regulations 

It requires businesses to develop, implement, and maintain a comprehensive written information security program (WISP). It is to protect the personal information of Massachusetts residents.

It also encrypts personal information when transmitting it over public networks or wireless networks or storing it on portable devices or media. 

This applies to any person or business that owns or licenses the personal information of Massachusetts residents. It is regardless of where the person or business is located.

Therefore, employers have to be aware of the various employer data protection laws and regulations that apply to them. It depends on the type, source, and location of the data they process and the nature and scope of their business activities.

Employers also have to keep track of the developments and trends in the US data protection system. It has the proposed federal privacy bills and the state privacy bills. Additionally, the enforcement actions and litigation by the federal and state authorities and private parties.

What are the Best Practices for Preventing Data Breach?

Data breaches are one of the most serious and costly threats to employer data protection. They can result in the loss, theft, or compromise of personal data or sensitive data.

Data subjects and data controllers may suffer from a variety of harms and damages as a result. This includes identity theft, fraud, financial loss, reputational damage, legal liability, and regulatory sanctions.

Data breaches can occur due to various factors, such as cyberattacks, human error, insider threats, or natural disasters. And this BH can affect any organization, regardless of size, industry, or location.

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Thus, employers have to take proactive and preventive measures to reduce the risk and impact of data breaches, such as:

1. Identifying Threats

Conduct regular risk assessments and audits to identify and address the potential vulnerabilities and threats to the data. It is essential to evaluate the effectiveness of data security procedures and policies and ensure compliance.

2. Implementing Robust Security Controls

Implementing robust security controls and safeguards to protect the data. It involves encryption, authentication, authorization, firewall, antivirus, backup, and recovery.

3. Educating Employees on Data Protection

Educate and train employees and contractors on the data protection rules, responsibilities, and best practices and procedures to follow. It includes using strong passwords, avoiding phishing emails, reporting suspicious activities, and complying with the data retention and disposal policies.

4. Establishing an Effective Incident Response Plan

Develop an incident response plan to respond to and manage data breaches. This includes notifying the relevant authorities and individuals, containing and isolating the breach, investigating and analyzing the cause and scope of the breach, and restoring and improving the data protection systems and processes.

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