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How to Protect Employee Personal Information

How to Protect Employee Personal Information

Photo representing data of an employhee

The use of personal information is commonplace in the hiring, promotion and termination processes. Employers also may have access to employee health records containing information about an individual’s physical health, medical family history and prescription drug use. Having access to these personal details can be risky with regard to an employee’s right to privacy.  It’s very important as a small business to make sure that you are safeguarding your employee’s information.  It can feel like a jungle. 

Here are a few key regulations that safeguard employee privacy.

Employee Medical Records

Employees have great protections concerning the privacy of their medical records and employer use of this type of information. Employers should become familiar with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), which regulates the access, use and disclosure of protected health information (PHI). For instance, HIPAA includes nondiscrimination rules regarding charging employees more or denying coverage based on health factors, genetic information or wellness activities.

Employee Personal Consumer Reports

At times, employers will obtain consumer reports to evaluate employees for hiring purposes, reassignments and retentions. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the employer must protect the privacy of the employee regarding the information on the report, as it may contain credit payment records, driving records and history of any criminal activity. Before obtaining a copy of a consumer report, the employer must obtain written permission from the individual.

As of June 1995, employers were required to dispose of consumer reports in a specific manner to reduce the risk of identity theft and other forms of consumer fraud. Any business or individual who uses a consumer report for a business purpose is subject to the requirements of this Disposal Rule.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the standard for proper disposal of consumer report information is flexible and allows the organizations covered by the rule to determine what measures are reasonable based on the sensitivity of the information, the costs and benefits of different disposal methods, and changes in technology.

As a stipulation of this regulation, employers must burn, pulverize or shred papers so that information cannot be read or reconstructed. In addition, electronic data must be destroyed or erased by overwriting the information so it cannot be read or reconstructed as well. Beyond this, employers can seek out a document destruction contractor in due diligence to dispose of the material.

Also, effective January 1, 2013, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires new background forms. These forms are used in explaining consumer rights be distributed to potential employees. Failure to update or distribute these forms may result in substantial fines.

Employee Drug Testing

Drug testing is one of the more widely used forms of medical testing in the workforce. Alcohol testing may also be standard in your industry as well, to reduce the risk that employees will act negligently while under the influence on the job. However, some states have regulations concerning employment-related drug or alcohol screenings. Check applicable laws before conducting testing.

Electronic Privacy

When personal information about employees is transmitted electronically, the security of the information may be questioned. When individuals send personal information electronically outside of work, the security of the information is their own responsibility. At work, however, employees likely expect that the network is secure—if an individual sends an email to HR verifying personal information, he or she does not anticipate that unauthorized parties will be able to access that information.

As an employer, it is important to discuss electronic privacy with your employees. Having employees sign a statement acknowledging that the company can access any information sent or received on its network is a good place to start. It seems simple, but this acknowledgement could save you from litigation.

To protect your company against privacy infringement against your employees, learn about relevant laws and ensure your policies and procedures comply. This is one area that Clarity HR can help. You don’t need to know every rule and regulation, you need to know who to come with to help you solve this problem.

Contact us today to get help right away on this common HR issue.

HR people icons and Clarity HR logo representing HR trends

HR departments are given more and more responsibility each year, oftentimes with budgets that don’t match. This means HR teams must constantly seek ways to innovate and stay on top of trends if they want to compete in the marketplace, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

To that end, here are five HR trends to watch for in 2021. When reviewing them, employers should consider how their organizations may benefit by implementing similar strategies.

1. Employee Well-being

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed the perception of what qualifies as a “safe and healthy” work environment. A couple years ago, any business with a wellness program may have fit that definition. And, even then, a company lacking those qualities wasn’t always a deal breaker for some employees.

Now, “safe and healthy” means something much different. In 2021, expect an increased focus on more rounded employee well-being. Baseline efforts will include safeguards against COVID-19, but many employers will likely go beyond illness prevention.

Already, some organizations have transitioned to a more holistic well-being approach, and others will undoubtedly follow suit. These initiatives examine the larger picture and aim to help employees better themselves, even outside the workplace. Efforts include mental health programs, dependent care assistance and flexible scheduling. Focusing on these areas can lead to healthier, happier and more productive employees.

2. Greater Inclusivity

While much of last year was defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant portion was also devoted to stemming racial inequity. Months-long protests forced a national conversation about diversity in the workplace and beyond. This prompted many businesses to make statements about committing to more diverse representation in their ranks.

While public statements and private company actions don’t always align, some workplaces are keeping good on their word. Notable efforts include consciously trying to diversify leadership, scrutinizing hiring processes to identify barriers to diversity and developing training to foster greater cultural and racial inclusivity. Employers can expect an uptick in these types of efforts in the new year.

3. Expanded Remote Work

Many businesses were forced to shut down or migrate to remote work during the pandemic. Now, even with a vaccine in sight, a large number of those employers will likely continue offering remote work opportunities. In fact, some tech giants like Twitter and Google have indicated workers may not be required to return to the office ever again.

This suggests remote work, at least part time, will remain for the foreseeable future. As such, employers should consider expanding their own remote opportunities, as applicable. This won’t be feasible in all situations, but it might be for some positions. Doing so will not only provide a safeguard against COVID-19, but it can also serve as a tantalizing recruitment perk. Moreover, remote positions give employers greater hiring flexibility, allowing them to expand talent pools to any area with an internet connection.

4. Increased Employee Monitoring

A natural counterpart to remote work is employee monitoring software. When a number of employees operate outside the workplace, employers sometimes need other ways to keep track of productivity. That’s where these tools come in.

Employee monitoring software is what it sounds like—software that tracks computer usage. Depending on the software, it might record and employee’s website traffic, app activity and time spent idle. Some solutions even give employers access to employees’ webcams.

While some of these monitoring capabilities may seem extreme, the demand for such tools has only increased amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That means employers with remote workers should consider whether monitoring software is right for them. Particularly, employers should weigh the need to manage workers against the consequences of infringing on employee privacy. In other words, a heavy hand in this area might actually breed more resentment than encourage productivity.

5. Reimagined Onboarding

Onboarding is yet another workplace facet that was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This critical process of hiring, training and welcoming new employees into an organization is one of the most important functions of HR. What was once a series of carefully outlined in-person meetings has now been upended.

Employers had to reimagine the onboarding process in 2020 and will likely continue adapting it in the new year. For many, this means transitioning to an entirely virtual onboarding process, while maintaining the same level of quality. Virtual onboarding may include remote meetings via webcams, online quizzes, video tutorials and other creative methods of educating new employees remotely. Even among employers that have reopened, developing these processes now will better position HR teams in the event of another COVID-19 wave and shutdowns.

Summary

COVID-19 affected nearly every workplace function last year, and that influence will linger into 2021 and beyond. Entire functions are being reimagined and reevaluated. Employers will need to adapt quickly if they want to compete in this innovative landscape. Reach out to Clarity HR for more guidance related to these and other workplace trends.

In 2021 and beyond, HR technology can help improve efficiency and productivity in the workplace—especially for HR professionals. And with many organizations adopting remote work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is increasing pressure for organizations and employees to adopt technology to collaborate, communicate and work from a distance.

Light bulb icons on a string one is lit up for HR technology trends

HR technology can automate a wide range of time-consuming business functions, allowing HR professionals to shift their focus from administrative tasks to high-impact tasks like strategy, employee engagement and change management.

In fact, according to PwC’s Human Resources Technology Survey, the core issues driving HR technology decisions include:

  • Finding, attracting and retaining talent
  • Developing people to reach their full potential
  • Improving the employee experience
  • Creating collaborative work environments
  • Workforce planning
  • Ensuring employee well-being, diversity and inclusivity

HR technology can enhance the overall employee experience, transform businesses and help organizations respond to change. This article explores HR technology trends to watch for in 2021.

1. Employee Wellness Management

Employee health and well-being will continue to be a priority this year. Due to the pandemic’s negative impact on employee mental health, employers can and should use technology to provide the support that employees need. Digital tools, such as apps, videos and webinars, can help mitigate employee stress, anxiety and burnout. Keep in mind that access to virtual mental health support can help reduce the stigma of reaching out for help. Improved employee mental well-being can result in a more engaged and productive workforce.

Additionally, consider how apps, gamification and wearables (technology that monitors breathing, movement and exercise) can be incorporated into company-sponsored wellness programs. This is particularly important if employees are working remotely, so you can ensure they are taking care of themselves, eating healthy and staying physically active. Healthier employees are generally more productive.

Finally, rather than manual data collection and program management, tech-enabled wellness portals can help ease use for both employees and administrators.

2. Employee Self-Service Portals

HR departments are tasked with many complex and sensitive administrative tasks—and it’s easy for errors to happen with manual data entry. Software can make the overall data management process simpler for HR professionals.

Conversely, employees may want to own, access and update their information. HR technology (e.g., self-service portal) allows employees to perform a range of HR-related tasks without filing paperwork, such as the following:

  • Updating personal information
  • Confirming employment status or rate of pay
  • Tracking and evaluating employee performance
  • Accessing online pay stubs
  • Viewing and printing federal, state or local tax forms or withholding information (e.g., Form W-2 or Form W-4)

Employers and HR professionals can also leverage self-service tools to communicate time-sensitive information like employee benefits changes and company holidays.

3. Remote and Hybrid Workplace Management

Most workplace experts agree that both remote and hybrid work arrangements—where employees work remotely part of the time and in the office the remainder of the time—are here to stay. Regardless of location, technology and project management tools can help improve workplace collaboration, communication and workflow efficiency. For tools already in place, evaluate the usefulness to identify any shortcomings or gaps and take the appropriate steps to improve functionality and usability.

4. Workflow Automation

Workflow automation technology can help employees work and collaborate efficiently and effectively. Focus on the business areas where efficiency can be improved and will have the biggest overall impact.

For example, project planning will vary by organization and depend on unique challenges or pain points, so start with evaluating and identifying those issues first. Consider projects within the HR department or projects throughout the organization that HR is supporting. Another idea is to consider how a single portal for HR, IT and other corporate resources could streamline a formal onboarding process for new hires. Once you’ve identified areas in which you can implement such technology, be sure to communicate any changes openly across the organization.

5. Learning and Development

The pandemic forced a shift from in-person learning to e-learning, online coaching, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Learning management systems (LMSs) can increase accessibility and ensure all employees have equal onboarding and learning opportunities. Schedule availability, location or learning style won’t hold back employees from growing professionally.

As many everyday activities went virtual in 2020, the pandemic accelerated the use of AR and VR for employee training in industries that rely on in-person or hands-on learning opportunities. An LMS is a more affordable and attainable option—and the software can be used by most employers to improve efficiencies and help effectively facilitate learning and development efforts from a distance.

Technology can also play an important role in employee career pathing by identifying skill gaps and providing personalized, self-paced courses. Moreover, it can help make performance review processes more efficient by tracking progress, accomplishments and feedback all on one platform.

Other HR Technology Considerations

Having new technology doesn’t do much good if employees won’t use it. Many organizations rely on training and communication from leadership to help boost user adoption. However, a PwC survey recently revealed that these two strategies are the least effective for increasing employee use of new technologies. Topping the list of most effective strategies were the use of incentives and gamification. This means that your organization may need to evaluate and change how you educate and train employees on new technologies.

Summary

Consider how these trends might motivate your organization and employees to adopt new technology that is intuitive and accessible. Contact us today to learn more about 2021 trends and how to effectively leverage HR technology.

Laptop showing a meeting of remote workers - Clarity HR logo

Successful business is all about accountability. Each worker’s individual contributions build on one another and culminate into something greater, to the benefit of the company and its customers. Conversely, when some individuals struggle with their performance, the entire organization can suffer.

Unfortunately, addressing poor performance isn’t always easy. This is especially true amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as remote working often makes accountability more complicated. This article offers five tips to help employers manage poor performance in the workplace, even while everyone is working from home.

1. Address the Problem Quickly

The longer poor performance goes unchecked, the more damage it causes. Strategies such as incidental counseling, frequent check-ins and 360-degree reviews can all be useful for identifying and curtailing poor performance early on. Even if the majority of the workforce is working remotely, it’s critical to budget ways to check in and monitor performance in an ongoing manner—particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the margin between success and failure is razor thin.

2. Have Difficult Conversations

Difficult conversations aren’t easy for many people, managers included. In fact, nearly 20% of top executives struggle to hold others accountable, according to the Harvard Business Review. This is a problem, since issues left unaddressed will almost always worsen over time.

A poorly performing employee isn’t likely to improve if left to their own devices—employers need to have tough conversations. This doesn’t entail laying into the employee, however. Rather, employers need to thoughtfully explain where they’ve noticed performance lapses and work candidly with the employee toward improvement.

These remote worker conversations should be face-to-face (e.g., a video call) and cover the following:

  • Explicit examples of where the employee’s performance is waning
  • A clearly defined standard that the employee must meet to no longer be considered a poor performer
  • Probing questions to identify problem areas, such as:
    • What’s different now from when your performance was better?
    • What’s not working as well for you, be it a workflow issue, new work arrangement, co-worker relationship or something else?
    • For what and to whom are you accountable?
  • An agreed-upon goal and timeline for assessing improvement

The end goal of these conversations should be to correct the problem, not necessarily discipline the employee. For instance, an employer may discover through this process that a workflow is the main hinderance, not an individual.

In other words, migrating to a work-from-home arrangement can create unforeseen problems, which can resemble individual shortcomings. By having tough conversations, employers can figure out the truth and help work toward a solution.

3. Follow Up on Progress

Establishing performance improvement goals is only worthwhile if employees are held to them. A clear goal with measurable standards should’ve been established during the initial performance conversation with the employee. Employers should follow up about everything that was discussed during that meeting.

The length of time between the initial meeting and follow-up will vary by situation. For instance, if the main problem turned out to be workflow-related—rather than solely about performance—it may take longer to establish a fix, since that solution may necessitate input from many stakeholders. In other cases, such as when an employee is distracted by personal responsibilities, an employer may have quicker turnaround expectations and follow up sooner.

4. Keep a Detailed Record

Employers should document all performance-related issues from the onset. That means as soon as a manager notices dwindling performance, a paper trail should begin. In a remote setting, this would entail collecting emails, chat transcripts and other logs. Doing so will help guide performance improvement by cataloging specific examples for the employee to work on and identifying different time periods to compare performance against.

The record should also include meeting notes to document anything that’s discussed during performance meetings, including specific action steps and goals. Employers may consider recording video calls, with employee consent, to keep a more accurate record. Not only will this documentation help employers track performance improvement, it may also be necessary for justifying an employee’s termination if they do not improve.

5. Seek Additional Manager Training

Performance issues can often be corrected through swift action. But, if managers are unable to recognize or address poor performance with their direct reports, problems will only continue. Managers may have different blind spots in this regard. Some may not track remote work performance closely enough, while others may speculate as to the cause of the poor performance without actually addressing it.

That’s why manager training is so important. Managers should be able to spot when performance is declining and have the resolve to address those situations with employees. This is the only method for getting to the root cause and improving the circumstances. It’s not prudent to expect employees to bring up their limited performance on their own.

Speak with Clarity HR for more workplace guidance, including additional best practices for managers.

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