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GDPR for Human Resources: What to Know for Employee Data

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Balancing General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) data protection requirements with legitimate business interests is an ongoing challenge for many HR professionals. On the one hand, having your HR data easily accessible is critical for your department to function. On the other, failing to protect sensitive information risks breaching the GDPR, leading to legal penalties, fines, and reputational damage to your business. Achieving a proper balance requires a firm understanding of the regulatory requirements and the implementation of effective data protection measures, such as redaction. Read on to discover everything you need to know about handling GDPR employee data and how AI-based redaction is helping HR departments ensure compliance. 

What is GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation is a comprehensive data protection law that applies to any organization that processes the personal data of individuals located in the European Union (EU). The GDPR applies all over the world, and even US companies without a physical EU presence may fall under GDPR jurisdiction if they have any employees or customers in the EU, regardless of citizenship or residency status. The GDPR has inspired similar legislation in the U.S. in the form of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA). 

What Is GDPR Employee Data?

Under the GDPR, personal data is any data that can be used to identify an individual. This includes names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and even IP addresses. The key GDPR challenge for HR departments to overcome is that this employee data must be easily accessible for various day-to-day tasks like payroll processing, benefits administration, and performance evaluations but securely protected at the same time.

GDPR employee data or HR data includes:

  • An employee's application file
  • Personnel file
  • Payroll information
  • Leave/medical file
  • Any information used to hire/fire
  • Details for pay and benefits
  • Enrollment in 401k and similar programs

The processing of sensitive personal data, including information on racial or ethnic background, political views, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, genetic and biometric data, health, and sexual orientation, is generally prohibited under the GDPR. This rule is intended to protect privacy and prevent discrimination.

Why GDPR Compliance Is Critical for HR Professionals

The GDPR is a significant component of EU privacy and human rights legislation and is the toughest law of its type in the world. The consequences of failing to comply can be severe, leading to fines of up to $21 million or 4% of global turnover, whichever is higher. GDPR compliance is also essential to avoid legal action, as the legislation grants individuals the right to sue for redress if their data is misused. 

Then, there is potential reputational damage and loss of trust, which can come from GDPR violations. Customers tend to abandon brands that violate data protection laws. Research shows that 66% of U.S. consumers do not trust companies that fall victim to data breaches, and 85% of consumers whose data is leaked will make sure to tell others about their negative experiences. 

The stakes are high when it comes to complying with laws like the GDPR, CCPA, and CPRA. That’s why it’s essential to implement effective data protection measures, such as redaction

Key GDPR Employee Data Requirements

When dealing with employee data, HR professionals must adhere to several key General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements to protect sensitive information and ensure compliance. The GDPR outlines specific obligations for lawful processing, data protection principles, data protection impact assessments, and the appointment of a Data Protection Officer.

Lawful Processing

Employers must have a legal basis to process employee data. It is possible for an employee to consent to their data being used, but the power imbalance between a company and its employees means consent alone is generally not a valid basis for the lawful processing of data. The GDPR clearly requires that consent be “freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous.”  Examples of a legal basis include contract performance, legal compliance, or compelling business interests.

Data Protection Principles

HR departments must process data lawfully, fairly, and transparently. This includes the requirement to collect data for clear, legitimate purposes and only to collect the minimum necessary data to achieve the business interest. This data minimization requirement can be challenging to achieve. However, automated redaction software simplifies this process by automatically expunging sensitive information before documents need to be made more widely available. 

In addition, the GDPR requires companies to ensure data is accurate and up to date. If an inaccuracy is identified, it should be corrected immediately. There is also a storage limitation, and HR departments should be careful not to keep data any longer than required. Finally, organizations are also required to implement technical and organizational measures to ensure data integrity and confidentiality, such as encryption and redaction. 

Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs)

Employers must also conduct Data Protection Impact Assessments for high-risk employee data processing. DPIAs are processes whereby the data protection risks of a project or process are identified, and measures are taken to mitigate the risks involved. 

Data Protection Officer (DPO) Appointment

The GDPR stipulates that companies must appoint a DPO for large-scale monitoring or processing of sensitive data. The DPO’s main duties are to:

  • Monitor GDPR compliance.
  • Provide advice on data protection.
  • Act as a point of contact for data subjects.
  • Liaise with authorities.

GDPR Employee Data Subject Rights

Under the GDPR, employees are granted several important rights to exercise control over their personal information, which employers must respect and uphold. These rights include:

Right of Access

Employees have the right to access their personal data and to learn how it is being processed by the business. 

Right to Rectification

Employees can request corrections to inaccurate or incomplete personal data at any time. Employers must comply with these requests. 

Right to Erasure (Right to be Forgotten)

The right to erasure, or the right to be forgotten as it is sometimes called, refers to the fact that employees may request the deletion of their data in certain circumstances. This is another case where automated redaction software can streamline compliance by automatically eliminating the data referring to the individual.

Right to Object

Employees have the right to object to the processing of their personal data. If an employee requests that you cease processing their personal data, you must comply with that request in order to be compliant with the GDPR. 

Strategies for GDPR Compliance in Employee Data Management

GDPR compliance doesn’t have to be complicated. By implementing the right strategies and using the right tools, such as automated redaction software, HR professionals can ensure that the law is always followed in employee data management. Let’s look at how you can ensure compliance:

Conduct A Data Inventory

To protect sensitive information, you need to start by conducting a data inventory to identify all sources and categories of employee data. Map out flows for the collection, use, sharing, and storage of data. Ensure that all processing activities are accounted for in GDPR compliance. 

Implement Data Security

Data security must be a priority of any organization looking to achieve and maintain GDPR compliance. Start by embedding data protection into your HR system’s design. Establish processes to only collect the minimum necessary employee data. Use technical security measures such as encryption and access controls. Remove confidential data from documents as early in the process as possible using automated redaction software. 

Test your security processes and protocols by conducting regular security assessments. Ensure that supervisory authorities are always notified within 72 hours of any kind of data breach. Finally, set up ways to notify and inform affected individuals as quickly as possible after a breach occurs. 

Provide Employee Privacy Notices

The GDPR requires you to keep your employees informed about personal data processing, purposes, and legal basis. Explain to your employees the rights and responsibilities they have as data subjects. Use concise, transparent privacy notices and make them easily accessible to employees. 

Establish Data Retention and Deletion Policies

Define clear employee data retention policies and ensure that you practice data minimization by only collecting and retaining necessary information. Implement secure data deletion processes and GDPR redaction protocols. Anonymize data using automated redaction software when you no longer need it, then, as a final step, shred or incinerate paper documents and securely erase digital files. 

Train Employees on GDPR Requirements

Regular training helps your business to promote a data protection culture and reduces non-compliance risk. Ensure that you continue to update your training materials to keep knowledge of policies and protocols fresh and current. 

Redactable's AI-Based Redaction Platform for GDPR Compliance

To comply with GDPR obligations, HR departments must only process the minimum amount of data required and should take steps to delete any information that’s no longer necessary. This is where AI-based redaction comes in. Redactable’s solution automates employee data protection using natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) to automatically identify and permanently redact all sensitive information, including hidden metadata. 

Redactable’s user-friendly redaction wizard enhances your team’s productivity, enabling them to spend less time redacting and more on higher-value tasks. Redactable also offers collaborative features and provides legally certified, time-stamped redaction certificates that demonstrate compliance with regulations such as the GDPR. 

Complying with GDPR Is Crucial for HR Departments

GDPR compliance should be a critical consideration for any HR professionals processing employee data connected to the EU. To protect yourself from significant fines, legal action, and reputational damage, it’s crucial to implement effective data protection measures such as encryption, data minimization, and document redaction. Redactable’s AI-based redaction platform offers the most reliable and efficient solution to safeguard your employee data. 

Take action today by trying Redactable for free to see how it can help you ensure GDPR compliance and protect your company’s reputation.

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