Understanding GDPR Employee Data Protection

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Did you know that GDPR does not only apply to customer data but also to employee data? 

As an employer, it is crucial to understand how the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) affects the way you handle your employees’ personal information. 

In this blog post, we’ll cover the basics of GDPR, the importance of legitimate interests, key GDPR requirements, employee data subject rights, and how to handle cross-border employee data transfers. 

Short Summary

  • GDPR sets out rules for processing employee data lawfully and securely with consent.
  • Employers must obtain valid consent, conduct DPIAs, appoint a DPO (if necessary), and implement data protection by design to comply with GDPR requirements.
  • Employees have the right to access, rectify, or erase their personal data held by employers. When transferring across borders, employers must follow GDPR guidelines & local laws.

GDPR and employee data: The basics

Employee data protection has never been more important—and this is in no small part thanks to GDPR. This comprehensive regulation sets out rules for processing employee data, which is considered personal data under the GDPR. Processing employees’ personal data must be done legally, securely, and transparently to meet legal requirements.

Employers must obtain consent from their employees for processing HR data; however, consent is not always given voluntarily due to the imbalance of power between employers and employees. To ensure compliance, personal data (including employee data) must not be kept longer than necessary for the purposes for which it was collected.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The GDPR is a comprehensive regulation that applies to all EU member states and sets out rules for processing data, including employee data. Employers can process employee data under two options: processing the personal data necessary for performing a contract or processing the personal data necessary for the “legitimate interests” of the business.

This regulation ensures that employers respect and protect their employees’ personal data, which is essential in maintaining trust and safeguarding privacy.

Employee data and personal data

Employee data refers to any information related to an individual employee, such as: 

  • Contact details
  • Performance records
  • Payroll information

Under GDPR, employers can process employees’ data, including a wide range of employees’ personal data, such as sensitive personal information like health data, race, ethnic origin, and sexual orientation, making employees, customers, and vendors data subjects under this regulation.

Employers must have a legitimate interest in processing this data, and this interest must be balanced against the employee’s privacy rights.

Legitimate interests and employee data processing

Legitimate interests are a lawful and reasonable basis for processing employee data under GDPR, taking into account the individual’s rights and freedoms while considering the interests of the employer. The legitimate interest exemption allows employers to process employee data without obtaining explicit consent, provided they do not infringe on the employee’s privacy rights.

To strike a balance between privacy rights and their own interests, employers must ensure that any data processing of employee data is:

  • Necessary and appropriate for their legitimate interests
  • Taking into account the potential effect on the employee’s privacy rights
  • Reducing any potential risks

Legitimate interests for employers

Legitimate interests for employers under GDPR include interests that are seen as legal and reasonable, such as payroll and performance management. These interests provide a convenient, legal way to process personal data under GDPR. By claiming legitimate interests, employers can ensure that their business operations run smoothly while still protecting the privacy of their employees.

Balancing privacy rights

Striking a balance between protecting an individual’s right to privacy and allowing for collecting and using personal data for legitimate purposes is a delicate task. Ensuring privacy rights are respected has numerous benefits, such as:

  • Safeguarding an Individual’s right to privacy
  • Permitting the collection and utilization of personal data for legitimate objectives
  • Allowing for growth and progress

Key GDPR requirements for employers

Employers must meet key GDPR requirements to ensure compliance and protect their employees’ personal data. Some of these requirements include obtaining consent, conducting Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs), and appointing a Data Protection Officer (DPO) if necessary.

Employers must also implement data protection by design and default, which involves taking the necessary technical and organizational measures to ensure that personal data is processed safely and in line with GDPR.

To process employee data under GDPR, employers must obtain valid consent from their employees. Consent must be given:

  • Freely
  • Specifically
  • With full knowledge
  • Without any ambiguity

However, if consent is not freely given, employers can still rely on other lawful bases like legitimate interests or the performance of a contract.

Employers need to obtain consent clearly and understandably, informing employees about the purpose of data collection, the type of data being collected, and the duration of data usage.


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Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA)

A Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) is a process that helps employers identify and minimize the risks associated with processing personal data. DPIAs are required when processing employee data that involves high risks to privacy rights, such as sensitive personal data.

To conduct a DPIA, employers must follow these steps:

  • Determine if a DPIA is needed
  • Describe the processing activities involved
  • Weigh the necessity and proportionality of the processing
  • Assess the risks to individuals’ rights and freedoms
  • Identify ways to reduce those risks
  • Implement data minimization, pseudonymization, encryption, and other technical and organizational measures to reduce potential risks

Data Protection Officer (DPO)

A DPO is required if a company’s core activities involve the processing of sensitive data on a large scale or involve large-scale, regular, and systematic monitoring of individuals. 

The DPO’s responsibilities include: 

  • Monitoring compliance
  • Advising on data protection obligations
  • Providing advice on DPIAs
  • Reporting to the highest management level while also working closely with data controllers

Employee data subject rights

Employees have various data subject rights under GDPR, which allow them to have control over their personal data. These rights include:

  • The right to access their data
  • The right to rectify their data
  • The right to erase their data
  • The right to object to the processing of their data
  • The right to receive compensation for damages

Employers must respect these rights and ensure that employees can easily exercise them, as this is crucial for maintaining trust and complying with GDPR.

Right to access

The right to access gives employees the power to request and obtain a copy of their personal data held by their employer. Employees can exercise this right by submitting a request to their employer, specifying the type of data they wish to access, the reason for the request, and the format in which they would like the data to be provided. Employers must respond promptly to access requests and may face fines and other penalties for non-compliance.

Right to rectification

Employees have the right to correct any inaccurate or incomplete personal data held by their employer under GDPR. To exercise this right, employees can submit a request to their employer, who must respond promptly and take reasonable steps to correct or complete the personal data. Employers who fail to comply with rectification requests may face administrative fines or other penalties.

Right to erasure (aka the right to be forgotten)

The right to erasure, also known as the right to be forgotten, allows employees to request the deletion of their personal data. Erasure requests can be made when employees withdraw their consent or when the processing is “no longer necessary for the purposes it was collected for.”

However, employers may deny erasure requests if they can assert that the data may be useful for current business purposes.

Handling cross-border employee data transfers

Handling cross-border employee data transfers can be challenging. Employers must follow GDPR guidelines and local data protection laws when processing employee data in different countries.

By understanding the rules and regulations for cross-border data transfers, employers can ensure compliance and avoid costly fines and penalties.

GDPR guidelines for cross-border data transfers

GDPR provides specific rules for transferring employee data outside the EU, such as:

  • Using appropriate safeguards like standard data protection clauses, codes of conduct, and certification mechanisms
  • Obtaining explicit consent from employees
  • Determining the necessity of the transfer for the conclusion or performance of a contract.

By following these guidelines, employers can ensure the security and compliance of cross-border employee data transfers.

Ensuring compliance in international scenarios

Employers must ensure compliance with both GDPR and local data protection laws when handling employee data in different countries. This involves:

  • Staying up-to-date on data protection laws in each country
  • Implementing the appropriate processes and procedures for protecting employee data
  • Regularly reviewing and updating these measures

By taking these steps and implementing a personal data breach notification system, employers can safeguard their employees’ personal data and maintain trust in the organization.

Conclusion: Get expert guidance on GDPR

Understanding GDPR and employee data protection is essential for employers to maintain trust, ensure compliance, and safeguard their employees’ personal information. 

By becoming familiar with the basics of GDPR, legitimate interests, key GDPR requirements, employee data subject rights, and cross-border data transfer guidelines, employers can confidently navigate the complex world of employee data protection. 

Remember, compliance with GDPR is not just a legal obligation but also a way to foster trust and transparency within your organization. Seeking expert guidance can help your business ensure it meets GDPR requirements.

Frequently asked questions about GDPR employee data protection

Yes, GDPR applies to employees’ data, and employers are required to obtain their consent for any additional purposes of processing it.

Employee personal data generally includes information such as name, address, social security numbers, dates of birth, bank account details, photos, medical records, emergency contact information, and protected class information.

Employee data is information about an individual employee, like contact details and performance records, while personal data includes that, plus other types of data related to the person. This could include things like medical records, financial information, and other sensitive data.

Legitimate interests under GDPR are those lawful and reasonable grounds for processing employee data while considering the individual’s rights and freedoms alongside the employer’s interests.

This means that employers must consider the impact of their data processing activities on the rights and freedoms of their employees, as well as their own interests. They must also ensure that the data processing is necessary and proportionate to the purpose for which the data is processed.

To ensure compliance with GDPR and local data protection laws, employers should stay up-to-date on the laws in each country, implement processes and procedures for protecting employee data, and regularly review and update these measures.

This includes understanding the types of data that must be protected, the rights of employees, and the obligations of employers. Employers should also ensure that their staff are aware of the data protection measures in place and that they are trained in how to handle data securely. Finally, employers should have a system in place.

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