It seems like every week there is a news blast on how data has been misunderstood, misused or abused. FromCambridge Analytica’s purposeful abuse of personal data toStrava’s unintentional reveal of military bases, 2018 has brought the consequences of personal data collection to the forefront. That said, it’s important not to forget that with proper use, personal data can have a huge, positive impact on your HR practices. Employers have used personal data to make better hiring decisions, help employees get healthy and address biases in the workplace.
Employers need to be able to harness the incredible power of employee data without unintentionally crossing legal and ethical boundaries. To make things more complex, let’s not forget that those boundaries are a shifting target. Technological advancements outpace the laws that were designed to protect individuals. There are also international challenges—what’s allowed in one region, may be forbidden elsewhere.
HR teams must develop a deeper understanding of data to make informed data decisions that benefit the business and respect employee privacy. For HR pros struggling to find the right balance, start by considering these 4 simple questions:
1. Is there a genuine benefit to collect this data?
There is always the temptation to collect data, just in case you need it later, or because it can have some minor value to the company. When making informed HR data decisions, it’s best to limit data collection to what is truly valuable and necessary for the business to run successfully.
2. Could the intended purpose of the data collection have any negative ramifications to employees?
Consider whether your employees would be okay with this information being collected, and whether the data could be used to negatively impact their job or opportunities at work. For example, tracking computer usage is something that most employees would not freely agree to, in part because of the potential for revealing private information that could impact their employment relationship. However, tracking employee birthdays in order to give employees a “birthday bonus” would generally meet with enthusiasm.
3. How could this data be misused?
A lot of problems with collecting employee’s personal information relate to misuse and abuse. For example, while collecting employee wellness data could help businesses create targeted programs to improve employee health, it could also be used to discriminate against employees. Or, unbeknownst to your HR team, it could be sold by third party providers for marketing purposes. Before collecting personal data for HR, consider the risk to your employees if the data is used improperly.
4. Are HR teams allowed to collect and process this data in the in the locations where employees work?
You can have the best idea to improve an HR practice, but if the data collection is not allowed where your employees are working, it’s a non-starter. If you aren’t sure whether you can collect a certain piece of data, check each country's data collection guidelines. (For PeopleDoc HR Compliance Assist customers, you can find country-specific guidelines here.)
Data processing presents unique opportunities for HR teams. Carefully weigh the pluses and minuses of collecting employee data before you use it to inform your HR practices.
Robin is the HR Compliance Assist Manager at PeopleDoc. She joined the team to help customers remain in compliance globally and easily navigate foreign rules and regulations through HR Compliance Assist.
Previously, Robin managed client HR communications and provided outsourced HR support. She has a Masters in Psychological Counseling from Teachers College, Columbia University.