Companies Walk Fine Line on Employee Data Amid Coronavirus Outbreak


Because the coronavirus outbreak has changed into a pandemic, privateness attorneys say firms have to be cautious to not demand extreme private data from employees, saying that would violate data-protection and employment legal guidelines in Europe and the U.S.

Company executives are in search of to cease the unfold of the coronavirus by implementing measures together with journey bans, necessities to report worldwide journey and, in some circumstances, well being assessments equivalent to physique temperature scans at workplace entrances.

The state of affairs turns into particularly delicate for firms to navigate if staff are reluctant to share particulars about their private journey or well being.

“You don’t wish to cross any traces right here in the case of privateness and integrity, however on the finish of the day that [infected] particular person after all wants medical care and must be taken out of the workplace instantly,” stated Jacob Birkeland, a spokesman for Sweden-based development firm Skanska AB.

Extra From WSJ Professional Cybersecurity

The European Union’s Normal Knowledge Safety Regulation says firms can gather private information just for a particular purpose and should acquire people’ consent for a way it is going to be used. European privateness regulators have raised issues about how employers are monitoring employees’ well being. U.S. firms should adjust to employment legal guidelines that prohibit them from asking about medical situations however require them to keep up protected workplaces, attorneys stated.

“It’s a world disaster; it’s critical. Nevertheless it doesn’t essentially justify a type of free-for-all strategy to information assortment,” stated Eduardo Ustaran, co-head of the privateness and cybersecurity apply at legislation agency Hogan Lovells.

Previously week, authorities in Italy, Denmark, Eire, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands revealed statements advising firms in opposition to accumulating an excessive amount of worker information. A spokeswoman for Belgium’s regulator stated physique temperature checks appear pointless based mostly on present data from well being authorities.

German TV broadcaster

ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE

requested staff to report back to company safety in the event that they made latest private journeys to areas with excessive an infection charges, a spokeswoman stated. A small variety of staff initially had issues in regards to the firm accumulating information, however finally agreed to share private data after executives defined why it was vital to guard employees, she stated.

After one worker in ProSiebenSat.1’s Düsseldorf workplace examined optimistic for the coronavirus, the corporate suggested round 200 employees who had direct or oblique contact with that particular person to remain at residence, a spokeswoman stated. That included ProSiebenSat1’s CEO, who returned to the workplace final Thursday, she stated.

“Safety is de facto one thing that is essential for individuals in Germany, particularly information safety, however [employees] completely perceive we wish to preserve them protected,” she stated.

As of Wednesday, Germany had greater than 1,600 reported coronavirus infections and three deaths.

German industrial producer

Schaeffler AG

realized Monday that one worker has the virus, a spokeswoman stated. Managers have been asking employees about private journey to high-risk areas, and informing them that they aren’t required to reply, she stated.

For public well being officers, methods to comprise the novel coronavirus contained in the U.S. will probably shift because the variety of new circumstances and deaths improve. WSJ’s Brianna Abbott explains a number of challenges the nation faces. Photograph: David Ryder/Reuters

Many U.S.-based firms are counting on staff to reveal whether or not they have been uncovered to well being dangers, stated Nancy Inesta, a Los Angeles-based accomplice targeted on employment legislation at Baker & Hostetler LLP.

U.S. employment legislation usually restricts firms from requiring staff to take medical exams, Ms. Inesta stated, whereas requiring staff to reveal private journey might violate their privateness rights. However firms can order staff to reveal if they’ve been uncovered to the virus or to work at home if there’s a direct risk to the office, she stated.

Ally Monetary Inc.,

a Detroit-based financial-services firm, requested staff to voluntarily register all worldwide journey utilizing an internet kind, a spokeswoman stated. Workers who visited high-risk areas are requested to work at home for 14 days.

Managers at Philadelphia-based development agency Day & Zimmermann are instructed to keep away from asking staff about particular medical situations, stated Jamal Ahmed, the agency’s vice chairman of inside audit. As a substitute, managers are requested to note signs equivalent to coughing they usually can inform employees to go residence, he stated.

In Europe, firms with staff in a couple of jurisdiction ought to be cautious to not implement the identical measures globally based mostly on one regulator’s warning, stated David McCarroll, a accomplice specialised in employment legislation at Irish legislation agency Ronan Daly Jermyn. “Public well being recommendation goes to be totally different relying on how every state is impacted,” he stated.

The Italian regulator stated any medical checks ought to be administered by medical professionals and never firm staff. The French authority stated employers can’t require employees to do each day physique temperature checks. The Irish regulator stated firms ought to show “sturdy justification” in the event that they ship staff questionnaires about private journey.

MTA SpA, an auto-parts maker based mostly in northern Italy, shut a plant final month over coronavirus issues and later partially reopened it. Staff there now have each day temperature checks, a spokeswoman stated. The measure complies with GDPR as a result of native authorities stated employers might implement measures to guard employees’ well being, she stated.

Write to Catherine Stupp at Catherine.Stupp@wsj.com and Kristin Broughton at Kristin.Broughton@wsj.com

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