COVID-19, data protection and common concerns
The ICO has indicated that in these challenging times employers should adopt a proportionate approach to data protection giving guidance on the following key areas of concern:
Do data protection laws prevent employees from working at home?
Data protection laws should not prevent homeworking during the pandemic.
Does the current situation negate the need for data security measures when employees are working remotely?
No. Employers should introduce the same security measures as they would usually adopt for all homeworkers.
It is our view that employers implementing widescale homeworking should introduce clear guidelines to manage expectations, control health and safety and protect confidentiality and data.
In the case of data security and confidentiality for homeworking, we would recommend as a starting point that employers:
- Assess the risk of a data breach arising from homeworking. This will assist to identify what measures and controls need to be introduced.
- Ensure employees are aware that data security and confidentiality is their responsibility. Now is the time to direct them to your policies governing IT and communications, data protection and data retention. Consideration should be given as to whether these may need to be updated to reflect homeworking.
- Issue specific guidance relevant to the business regarding data security in the context of homeworking. For example, the mandatory use of encryption and passwords, keeping all papers securely and not allowing household members to use company IT equipment.
Make sure employees know what to do and who to contact if they discover a security or data breach.
Can we tell employees about cases of COVID-19?
Yes. Staff should be kept informed about cases of COVID-19. This is on the basis employers need to satisfy their duty of care regarding health and safety. Individuals must not be named and no more information than is necessary should be provided.
What if we are asked by the public health authorities to share employee health information?
Organisations may share employees’ health information with authorities for public health purposes.
FG Solicitors are experts in all areas of Employment Law and HR, including Data Protection and we can provide guidance around the issues that may arise if you are currently transitioning from office-based working to homeworking. Feel free to call us on 0808 172 9322 for a no obligation discussion.
An unprecedented time – preserving your business
The current crisis in relation to the coronavirus has very quickly taken on a different complexion for many businesses. It is no longer planning for self-isolation and how we control the spread of the virus within the workplace. Many businesses are planning for survival as they are facing the stark reality that trading levels may drop significantly to a level where operating costs will outweigh current and projected revenue streams.
Organisations that have a clear view of their people resources and adopt a flexible strategy to the changing commercial and economic environment are more likely to minimise the disruption to their businesses. This may mean that in some cases difficult decisions must be made which will have a detrimental effect upon the workforce. However sound decisions made now could safeguard businesses for the future, with redundancies be treated as a last resort outcome given the potential costs involved:
- Reducing hours: If only temporary changes are needed to provide some financial breathing space short-time working, part-time or flexible working or overtime bans could provide the help that is needed.
- Temporary stoppages: Faced with the reality of no job in the short-term, employees may be open to consider a sabbatical, taking unpaid leave, taking a period of paid annual leave or being laid-off.
- Reducing payroll costs: A reduction in costs can be achieved in different ways and does not have to always be reliant on a reduction in headcount. Would pay freezes, pay cuts or the withdrawal of bonus entitlements be more appropriate?
- Reducing headcount: Compulsory redundancies are not the only way to reduce headcount. Consideration should be given to voluntary redundancy, recruitment freezes, reducing non-permanent staff, the withdrawal of new job offers or deferring the start date for new joiners, reducing the number of agency staff, considering redeployment or secondment of staff or even early retirement.
Whilst the impulse may be to look for a quick fix which may be seen to be job losses, employers should not be surprised that in difficult times employees will be less resistance to change and may be amenable to different options when the only other alternative is redundancy.
Any strategic fix for your business should involve a robust operational readiness assessment before communications are made to employees, who at this time are looking for clear management direction. Key considerations in ensuring the strategy is fit for purpose would be:
- Establishing whether redundancies are the only option. Any redundancies come with costs and may leave the business faced with a skills shortage later in the year.
- Having certainty that there is sufficient flexibility in the plan to be able to respond quickly to any changing trading conditions (good and bad), if implementing alternatives to redundancies.
- Recognising that any decisions affecting the workforce must consider collective and individual employment rights (statutory and contractual). Advice at the planning stage is important so that legal risks can be managed and accounted for. The legal framework around lay-off, short-time working and statutory guarantee payments can be tricky to navigate, as is the collective consultation obligation, which may be triggered where proposed workplace changes may affect 20 or more employees.
None of us are currently operating in a perfect world and there are some difficult times ahead. FG Solicitors are experts in all areas of Employment Law and HR and we can guide your business through any difficulties you may face like this one. Feel free to call us on 0808 172 9322 for a no obligation discussion.
How to make proactive risk management a reality
Poor management of legal risk when it comes to your workforce could be costly and damage the organisation’s reputation. Uncapped compensation for discrimination claims, and as from 6 April 2020 an increase in the financial limit on unfair dismissal claims (£88,519 or one year’s pay, whichever is the lower), can make an employment tribunal claim an attractive option for a disgruntled employee, particularly if backed by legal expense insurance to cover legal costs. What have they got to lose?
Investing in legal risk training in HR and employment law for managers can minimise the risk of a dispute or prevent one altogether. For this to be a workplace reality, managers should understand:
- the legal framework within which they and the organisation must operate;
- the policies and procedures that must be followed;
- the consequences of their own actions or inactivity; and
- when to escalate the matter to senior management or professional advisers.
Having this understanding means that your managers can handle problems in a compliant and controlled way and legal risks can then be managed more effectively.
If you would like your managers to become more proactive when managing their teams, please follow the link here to find out more about F G Solicitors’ Legal Awareness and HR Training …… “Training is the oxygen of good performance”.