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Protecting your Health Data post lockdown

As the UK begins to emerge from lockdown, many people are focusing on how their companies will conduct health screenings going forwardin order to ‘track and trace’ those who have come into contact with the virus.

Many companies are investing in their own processes for tracking where employees have been and who they were with, alongside other technology such as temperature checking and updating security cameras to ensure safety measures are being adhered to.

Putting aside concerns over the Equalities & Human Rights acts, let’s assume that companies do manage to get these measures in place. What does it mean for data protection?

Much of the information collected by companies will be health data, which is protected under both GDPR and the Data Protection Act. Whilst there is a clear reason for the use of health data, the lines become less clear on how and when information can be used, and most importantly who has access to it.

It’s not just employers battling with these issues. Service providers may also find themselves subject to similar oversight when visiting customers. Having your health data in the hands of your own company is one thing, but having them in the hands of a third party is raising the stakes. Do you trust that these companies will have the same rigorous standards for data collection, handling and destruction?

It pays to remember that the simple act of companies collecting this data will likely see them targeted by fraudsters, to whom this data is a valuable commodity. Whilst cyber criminals tend to target larger firms, up to 40% of small businesses are believed to have experienced a security breach in the past 12 months.

Easy you think. I simply won’t collect or provide health data, it is afterall optional. But what if refusal leads to services being stopped? What if the individual or company is deemed to have failed to protect the wellbeing of the clients, service providers or employees?

What steps can you take to protect yourselves?

With so much uncertainty, this minefield may force many companies to delay their return to business as ‘new normal’. But what about those companies or individuals who simply cannot afford to take more time? Protect yourself by:

  • Reinforcing the Government guidance; remind symptomatic individuals to shield for seven days, encourage regular and effective hand washing, ensure social distancing guidelines are easy to follow.

  • Encouraging remote working; where possible, including video conference for internal and external meetings. Engage with employees to develop innovative solutions for services that were previously carried out in person.

  • Conducting a risk assessment; test health and safety measures and look at a phased return of the workforce. The part-time furlough scheme may help companies who wish to alternate the return of staff.

  • Making employees and contractors aware of social distancing; despite this being commonplace, it is essential to communicate an outline of how social distancing will be in effect in your workplace (including PPE requirements). This should be shared to all employees before their return to the workplace and contractors before each visit.

  • Revisiting your wellbeing programme; ensure that staff are aware of what support is available and that they have the support and understanding of their company regarding the wide range of psychological issues the pandemic has caused.

  • Preparing for quarantine periods; international travel will likely see individuals have to isolate for 14 days on arrival to countries outside of the UK, and then for a further 14 days on their return. Planning for longer periods of absence or increased flexibility for remote working will be paramount for the smooth running of operations.

It’s also worth remembering that with people working in new ways and different locations, paper documents are also vulnerable. From home and car break-ins to ‘rubbish thieves’, data theft has dramatically increased during the UK lockdown. Employers should consider providing home safes for laptops and paperwork, reinforcing guidelines on data handling (not leaving in vehicles) and provide document shredding facilities for home workers.

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