Employee data protection a top compliance priority in 2024

Privacy laws have a significant impact on HR data management and this includes safeguarding personal information, financial details, and any other sensitive data collected and managed by employers.

PROTECTING employee data is a crucial compliance priority in 2024 especially for organisations. With the increasing digitalisation of work environments, ensuring the security and privacy of employee data is paramount.

Privacy laws have a significant impact on HR data management and this includes safeguarding personal information, financial details, and any other sensitive data collected and managed by employers.

Understanding data privacy

Data privacy refers to the rights and obligations related to protecting collected and stored personal information.

It is a crucial aspect of the modern business environment where employee data, ranging from contact details to financial and health information, is routinely processed. Effective data privacy protocols help to safeguard individuals’ details and play a crucial role in establishing trust and credibility in the workplace. Data privacy laws impact HR data management by requiring organisations to regularly review and update their data protection policies and practices to accommodate changes in the regulatory landscape. This ongoing commitment to compliance and data protection ensures that HR data management remains in line with evolving privacy laws with regards to handling of their personal information.

Is data protection a new thing?

Protecting employee privacy is not a new thing. Most sensitive personal information has always been collected and managed in the workplace and this includes personnel files, employment contracts, compensation/benefits and performance reviews and any other related information. While concerns about privacy and data security have existed for centuries, the modern framework for data protection, as seen in today’s regulations and laws, has emerged relatively recently. The rise of digital technologies, increased data collection and the potential for widespread data misuse have led to the development of comprehensive data protection regulations globally.

Data protection in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, data protection is primarily governed by the Data Protection Act, which was signed into law in 2019. The Act aims to regulate the processing of personal information and protection of the privacy of individuals in Zimbabwe. It establishes principles for the lawful processing of personal data, outlines the rights of data subjects, and imposes obligations on data controllers and processors. This Data Protection Act in Zimbabwe represents a significant step in formalising data protection standards within the country, aligning with global trends in safeguarding personal data and privacy. Potraz under Data Protection Authority is responsible for ensuring compliance with data protection regulations for organisations.

Impact of privacy laws on HR data management 

The current regulatory landscape and the emphasis on individual rights, transparency and accountability represent a relatively recent and rapidly evolving development in the realm of data protection. HR departments worldwide must adhere to stringent data protection laws to ensure they protect all employee-related personal data. By prioritising employee data privacy, organisations not only comply with legal requirements but also build trust among their workforce. This proactive approach can contribute to a positive company culture and enhance the overall employer-employee relationship. Non-compliance can lead to severe penalties and reputational damage hence it’s key to ensure that organisation complies with all the data privacy and protection laws.

Prioritising employee data privacy

As technology continues to advance and with increasing concerns about data breaches and privacy violations, organisations are recognising the need to establish robust measures to safeguard personal information for their employees. With the rise of remote work and the increasing reliance on digital platforms, organisations will invest in robust cybersecurity measures to protect employee data from cyber threats. Organisations need to place strong emphasis on educating employees about data privacy best practices and the importance of safeguarding their personal information. Various strategies need to be reconsidered to ensure employee-related personal data is protected. This includes contact information, application data, time records, wage statements and employee personal information.

Balancing transparency and confidentiality in HR

One of the first challenges in balancing transparency and confidentiality is clearly defining the boundaries of what information can be shared. In today's digital age, where information is readily accessible and shared at lightning speed, the ethics of disclosure have become a complex and subtle issue. Data privacy in HR calls for a harmonious blend of transparency and confidentiality in organisations. There is a growing demand for transparency and on the other hand, there is a need to protect confidential information, safeguard personal privacy, and maintain professional boundaries.

Navigating this balancing act is crucial for organisations, individuals and society as a whole.

Who should be custodians of data (data protection officers)

The use of data comes with a responsibility to ensure that it is used ethically and that the privacy of individuals is respected. The protection of personal information is not just a matter of compliance but it is also a matter of dignity as well. The Data Protection Authority of Zimbabwe in its capacity under Potraz indicated that any entity or individual holding data for more than 30 people is supposed to notify the authority and be registered as a data protection officer. This only shows that in an organisational set up it is the duty of that company to point out who will be the custodian of their data and let them be registered under Potraz. These people are supposed to be certified under Harare Institute of Technology in Zimbabwe for them to be certified data protection officers.

HR’s role in data protection

All organisations are mandated to have data protection officers by the regulatory authority but it is important to note that they do not work in isolation from other departments. There are departments that manages some data in organisation and all of them cannot be data protection officers but work closely with the data protection officers to ensure that they safeguard critical information. The human resources (HR) function manages a vast amount of personal data throughout the employee life cycle, including; the hiring, firing, disciplinary or grievance procedures, payroll, and the like. Human resources personnel should train people to be aware that the responsibility for data protection is not just at a departmental level, every individual HR professional needs to be aware of their own privacy responsibilities.

In larger organisations, the HR department usually work very closely with their allocated privacy points of contact from the compliance or privacy team. HR plays a major role to manage and train employees to have basic knowledge of standards of privacy and in keeping the organisations’ data secure.

Integrating data privacy into policies and contracts

Data privacy plays a massive part in each function of human resource and it is the human resource professionals that are mandated to spearhead the creation of policies and procedures for organisations. These policies must classify what kind of data the employer is processing, why they are processing it, with whom they share and for how long they need it. Human resources managers will work with data protection officers to assist in data mapping and also inserting certain clauses in an employee’s contracts that classify the data that an employee can process, who they share it with and why including other clauses for data protection.

Future of data privacy in HR

Looking ahead, data privacy practices in HR are likely to become even more sophisticated. As technology continues to evolve, so will the means of securing data. The future of data privacy in HR will increase focus on protecting employee data, including the use of advanced encryption techniques, secure data storage and strict access controls. Companies may also adopt AI-driven tools to ensure compliance with data privacy regulations and there may be a shift towards greater transparency and consent management regarding employee data usage. As technology evolves, there may be an emphasis on creating a culture of data privacy awareness and education within HR departments to mitigate potential risks.

As we move into the future, embracing data privacy will undoubtedly be integral to HR’s evolution. HR professionals can anticipate a future where data privacy is integral to HR strategies, ensuring legal compliance and fostering a culture of trust and respect in the workplace. Complying with data protection regulations is all about establishing trust, ensuring ethical conduct, and enhancing the overall workplace experience.

  • Emmanuel Zvada writes in his own capacity. He is an Award-Winning Global HR Practitioner and Managing Consultancy for Third Eye Africa Consulting Group. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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