In an era where data breaches and privacy concerns dominate headlines, businesses worldwide face increasing scrutiny over their data-handling practices. For HR leaders, safeguarding employee data has become paramount, given the numerous data-privacy laws and regulations that have been enacted in recent years.
Ensuring compliance not only protects the organisation from legal consequences, but also fosters trust among employees, bolstering the company’s reputation.
In recent years, according to Shailesh Singh, CHRO, Max Life Insurance, the digital landscape has witnessed rapid advancements, with the Western world leading the change. However, the Eastern part of the world is catching up swiftly, resulting in a significant reduction in the gap.
“As tools such as AI continue to accelerate progress, data has emerged as the new currency, exemplified by the rise of companies such as Google, Facebook and WhatsApp. This trend has also reached countries such as India, where the focus has shifted from wealth creation to the increasing value of data”
Shailesh Singh, CHRO, Max Life Insurance
He adds, “As tools such as AI continue to accelerate progress, data has emerged as the new currency, exemplified by the rise of companies such as Google, Facebook and WhatsApp. This trend has also reached countries such as India, where the focus has shifted from wealth creation to the increasing value of data.”
With data becoming increasingly valuable and companies seeking to monetise it, “there is a pressing need for governments to regulate its use,” says Singh. According to him, “Ensuring data protection is vital to preventing customer data —including employee data — from being exploited or misused, preserving a fair balance that benefits all stakeholders.”
The Data Protection Act, established several years ago in India, serves as an example of the nation’s commitment to managing data responsibly.
Singh cautions, “Companies too, must recognise the sensitivity around data and take measures to protect it. Adhering to the principles of ‘need to know’ access ensures that data is not shared freely but only with authorised personnel on a necessity basis. The days of freely sharing personal data without proper security measures are long gone, as the risk of misuse has escalated significantly.”
The first step to achieving data-privacy compliance is to educate HR personnel about relevant data- protection laws and regulations. Human resource leaders should organise workshops and training sessions to ensure that all staff members understand the principles and implications of data privacy. This includes informing them about the importance of consent, transparency, data minimisation, and the various rights granted to employees under data protection laws.
It is essential for HR leaders to conduct a thorough audit of their data-handling practises. They need to identify the types of personal data collected, the purposes for processing, the sources of data and any third-party vendors involved. This audit helps to ascertain whether data processing is legitimate, necessary and proportionate to the intended purpose. In line with data-protection regulations, HR leaders should seek explicit and informed consent from employees before processing their personal data.
“Developing a comprehensive data-breach response plan is essential. This plan should outline the steps to be taken in the event of a breach, including notifying affected individuals and regulatory authorities as required by data-privacy laws. A well-prepared response plan can minimise the impact of a breach and demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to data protection”
Ramesh Shankar S, chief joy officer, Hrishti.com
Consent forms should be clear, easy to understand and specific to the purpose of data processing. Data breaches can have severe repercussions for an organisation’s reputation and financial stability. It is the duty of HR leaders to prioritise data security by implementing robust measures such as encryption, access controls and regular security assessments. Additionally, they should ensure that employees are aware of cybersecurity best practices and the importance of safeguarding sensitive data.
Ramesh Shankar S, chief joy officer, Hrishti.com, suggests that HR leaders adopt the principle of data minimisation, wherein only the minimum amount of employee data necessary for specific purposes is collected and processed.
“This helps reduce the risk associated with holding excessive or unnecessary data. Additionally, data should only be used for the purposes for which it was initially collected, ensuring compliance with the principle of purpose limitation,” points out Shankar.
Data privacy laws are continuously evolving, and HR leaders must stay informed about the latest developments. Subscribing to newsletters, joining professional associations and attending conferences are excellent ways to keep abreast of changes in data-protection regulations. By proactively monitoring regulatory updates, HR leaders can adjust their data-privacy policies accordingly.
Conducting Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs) for significant HR processes is crucial to identifying and mitigating potential privacy risks. These PIAs help HR leaders understand the potential impact of data- processing activities on employees’ privacy rights, and enable the implementation of necessary safeguards.
Shankar also advises HR leaders to prepare for the worst-case scenario — a data breach.
“Developing a comprehensive data-breach response plan is essential. This plan should outline the steps to be taken in the event of a breach, including notifying affected individuals and regulatory authorities as required by data-privacy laws. A well-prepared response plan can minimise the impact of a breach and demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to data protection,” points out Shankar.