Data Privacy & Protection in 2021: Why It’s Important for HR

HR data tips to keep you and your employees safe in 2021

by Aimie Ye

The shift to remote work in the wake of COVID-19 is no news on our blog — we’ve covered everything from remote employee onboarding to tracking COVID-19 paid leave. But what does long-term remote work mean for employee data privacy and protection? With nearly two-thirds of U.S. workers clocking in from home, HR managers must stay up-to-date with best practices on why data protection is even more important in 2021, and know how to uphold employee data rights through these changing times. As Data Privacy Day approaches (January 28th), we’ve mobilized to create a guide on HR data tips to keep you and your employees safe.

Why is Data Security Important for HR in 2021?

While data breaches and privacy concerns typically involve IT teams, human resources plays a key role in contributing to data security throughout the pandemic. Here are a few reasons why it’s crucial for HR to be involved from the start.

1. Changing landscape due to COVID-19. The drastic shift from in-office work to remote work has created a plethora of new opportunities for hackers to target employees, which calls for a reassessment of HR and IT related data risks. From personal computers to home computer networks, there are a number of new entry points for attacks related to data, devices, and networks. Threats could potentially compromise health and legal cybersecurity, as well as critical HR infrastructures. 

2. GDPR Compliance. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a newer European data privacy and security law that imposes obligations on businesses everywhere (not just in the EU). These data protection regulations come with extremely high violation fines, at two tiers of penalties, depending on the level of violation. The law requires that both consumers and employees must provide explicit consent before a company is allowed to use their data. Users may also ask for data collected to be deleted.

    If a data breach occurs, the company, as well as the HR manager, may be held accountable for what’s lost. HR’s role is to ensure that user data is properly used, regulated, and approved of. Specifically through COVID-19, potential entry points for cybersecurity risks, password attacks, and phishing attacks are expanded, so it is important to make sure you are taking the proper measures to protect your data.

    3. HIPAA Compliance. HIPAA continues to require that businesses safeguard patient data, which is a growing concern as COVID-19 directly impacts employee health, from taking FFCRA paid leave to providing vaccine information. HR must continuously stay on top of confidentiality, protection, and compliance agreements per HIPAA regulations.

    4. Managing terminated employees. Not all data breaches and privacy issues can be prevented, but HR must recognize the potential risk of terminated employees who may be dissatisfied or try to hurt the business. Planning an exit strategy from a data security perspective is a good way to set clear expectations for future employees. This also encompasses restricting permissions for different levels of access to HR related data. HR workflow software like GoCo can help streamline and customize termination checklists, so you can stay consistent with every termination without missing a step.

    5. Privacy policies. HR is in charge of maintaining and creating a privacy policy for the business, so users are aware of what options are available in the case of infringement. Privacy policies can be used as key evidence during COVID-19, when cybersecurity risks are heightened, and employees are working all over the place.

    Tips for Upholding Employee Data Rights in 2021

    Heightened data security measures are here to stay through the pandemic, and HR can take actionable steps in maintaining a safe digital workplace.

    • Communicate with your team. 

    Your team should be well-versed on the added cybersecurity and data risks while working remotely. After you assess the privacy impacts of collecting and storing employee data through a crisis, make sure you update your policy documents and send acknowledgements to employees to keep them in the loop. Your privacy guidance and documents should cover topics like how to identify scams, phishing attempts, and give employees peace of mind that their data is secure. Sending policies out through a secure HRIS can be a big help.

    • Add a VPN. 

    To help employees work from home safely, you may want to consider implementing a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN creates a secure connection and environment for all work devices over the internet, even if everyone is logging in from different locations. For SMBs in particular, a VPN could strengthen connection security, streamline file sharing, improve internet connectivity, and more. VPNs come at a variety of different price points for HR and the leadership team to consider.

    • Choose a secure HR tech platform. 

    With the right HRIS, HR managers can ensure that employee data and documents are safely stored with extra protection. Modern HR systems like GoCo prioritize security by running on modern cloud platforms, securing data with two-factor authentication, passing SOC 2 certifications, and utilizing certified data centers. HR data protection during COVID-19 is even more important, so it may be time to evaluate stronger platforms if your current HR tech doesn’t check the boxes. Consolidated HR platforms also help store all data in one place, which reduces the risk of wrongful access and increases reliability.

    • Offer training courses on data security. 

    To help employees understand their data rights, it may be a good idea to invite a cybersecurity professional to cover best practices. While data security can get very technical, the course could also help from a higher level, with tips on how to avoid websites that aren’t secure, and how to safely communicate internally. HR advisors from GoCo’s HR Support Center can be a great shoulder to lean on when it comes to structuring training around security, and what could be beneficial to include. 

    COVID-19 has only made data privacy issues even more salient than before. As you continue to tackle new challenges throughout 2021, make sure you have a plan in place for the sake of you and your employees. If you are ready to explore secure HR platforms for added protection, GoCo is a great option that also helps streamline manual HR tasks like onboarding, benefits and payroll set-up. Take a free interactive tour today to see how we can help.

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