What Every HR Professional Needs to Know about Data Privacy and Information Security

In this day and age, data breaches are undoubtedly becoming more common. Since 2015, the number of stolen items has increased by 4,379%. Unfortunately, these data breaches cost businesses in many ways, such as through fines, penalties, lawsuits, mitigation, and the loss of consumer and employee trust. 

Even more concerning is the rising cost of cleaning up a data breach. The average business pays out about $4.45 million, an increase of 15% in the last three years. 

HR professionals must realize that it’s just as important to safeguard employee data as it is to protect client data. Since HR is responsible for collecting so much employee information, HR professionals must figure out how to ensure employees never have to worry about compromised data.

The Role of HR in Cybersecurity

In today’s business landscape, technology is no longer just the purview of IT personnel. If every department uses technology, everyone in the organization must step up and protect sensitive data — including HR professionals. 

The HR department has the unique job of supporting employees. Part of their duties is to manage both employee information and the information those employees have access to. 

You may have already partnered with your IT personnel to help employees protect client data by distributing acceptable use policies or offering cybersecurity training. However, don’t forget that your department has to be just as vigilant with employee data. When it comes to protecting employee data across the organization, there are some proactive steps you need to take to maximize information security.

Best Practices for Protecting Employee Data 

As an HR professional, you know how important it is to adhere to best practices in everything you do, and data security is no different. If you’re not sure where to start in that regard, here are a few considerations surrounding employee information security protection. 

Compliance Strategy

Before implementing any other HR data security measures, you need to have a comprehensive compliance strategy in place. This document should describe what the company plans to do to protect data in accordance with federal, state, and local laws. As you write your policy, consider topics like:

  • Internal risk assessments
  • In-house vs. outsourced cybersecurity
  • Storing and encrypting employee data
  • Permissions for viewing, using, and sharing data
  • Compliance documentation

Make sure to partner with your senior leadership as well as your IT personnel to craft this strategy so that everyone in the organization is on the same page.

Information Inventory

It can be challenging to protect information you don’t even know you have. For this reason, you should work with IT personnel to take inventory of the sensitive employee information in your possession. This will help you know what tools and protocols you should be using to protect it.

Policies and Procedures

Work to establish data protection policies and procedures for everyone who comes in contact with employee data. This goes well beyond your strategy document and details the actual methods you will use on an administrative, technical, and physical level. In this document, you may address:

  • Best practices for accessing data remotely and in the office
  • Consent for collecting, storing, and using data
  • Protocols such as password changes and two-factor authentication

This document can also be used to design a training program to help others in the organization learn to keep data safe.

Response and Recovery

You must accept the fact that, despite your best efforts, a data breach can still happen. However, being able to respond to it quickly can mitigate your losses. 

Make sure you have a business continuity plan in place to contain and remediate the negative effects of an unexpected data breach. As part of this plan, you may want to consider offering identity theft protection to help your employees recover if their information is exposed.

Staying Up to Date on Tightening Regulations

While federal laws mandate that you do everything you can to protect employee information, regulations in recent years have been shifting to a “rights-based” model that allows consumers (including employees) to dictate how their sensitive information is handled. For example, state laws like the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA) state that consumers:

  • Have a right to know what information you collect and how you use or share it
  • Can request that you delete certain information
  • Can opt out of the sale or sharing of their information
  • Cannot be discriminated against for exercising their rights

As an employer, collecting certain information is unavoidable. However, you must make sure you do so in a way that considers the changing landscape of data privacy regulation.

Taking Care of Employee Data is Paramount to the Employee Experience

While protecting employee data is the law, it’s also part of building trust with your employees and maintaining your employer brand. Protecting employee information can be a daunting task, but it’s crucial that you do so. 

Putting in time and effort into this end helps you protect the business. It also keeps your employees happy, engaged, stress-free, and productive, which ultimately benefits the entire organization.