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Employers amass big data on their employees. Under state and federal laws, the employer has an absolute and non-delegable duty to prevent disclosure and misuse of that data, to notify employees of any potential security breach, and to use the data only for the purpose for which it was ostensibly collected. With employee big data, comes employer big responsibility.
How is Employee Big Data Collected and Stored?
While some companies may still drag paper personnel files from desk to desk, the vast majority have electrified their record-keeping through a human resources information system. In a nutshell, HRIS is a specialty software application or platform that allows HR professionals to use electronically stored employee information to populate forms and automate common HR tasks. More than a simple database, HRIS is designed to house disparate and seemingly unrelated pieces of information for use in combinations to make legally compliant as well as business savvy decisions.
For instance, HRIS automates the company’s employee benefits and enrollment programs, vacation, sick leave, PTO and other forms of leave taking, mandatory state and federal filings (like the EEO1 reports, OSHA or workers’ compensation forms), applicant tracking, and employee training, evaluation and even discipline and termination information. A competent HRIS program allows the HR pro to look up the date of hire, number of vacation days accrued, whether Joe has signed his arbitration agreement, or has any leave left under FMLA – all through a handful of key strokes.
What Employee Big Data Is Found in an HRIS?
Personal: Name, age and date of birth, home and email addresses, social security number, telephone number, passport numbers, photograph, I-9 status, next of kin information, literacy, language skills, religion, marriage and domestic partner information and status (which could reveal sexual orientation, divorce, children born outside of marriage, etc.), religious beliefs and observances, employee’s and family member’s military service history (under USERRA, FMLA and CFRA).
Financial: Banks and Lenders (through job verifications), bank account numbers, balance and deposit dates, money and debt (through direct deposit programs), bankruptcy, property owned and liens against property (through background screening), garnishment.
Medical: Insurance and renewal dates, life insurance totals and beneficiaries, medical conditions, disabilities, treatment, prescriptions, leave status, surgical history, drug and alcohol history and rehabilitation efforts, names of doctors and health care providers, smoking, drinking, weight and nutritional habits (through health and wellness programs and incentives), medical conditions and disabilities of immediate family members,
Credit, Criminal and Cars: Employee credit and criminal history (which could include a mug shot!), character references and statements (from background screenings), DMV records, including points and DUI information, insurability, prior accidents, driver’s license number, insurance policy number and renewal dates (on those who drive for the company), type of hands-free phone and user history (for distracted driving prevention policies).
(And let’s not even get started on a document management system (DMS) that also stores, categorizes and files email correspondence! No matter how strong your electronic communications policy is, most employees use their work email addresses for all manner of personal communications and while emails are not necessarily folded into HRIS, laws protecting employee data apply to that contained in emails stored in an employer’s DMS.)
What Laws Protect Employee Big Data?
The information identified above is private. Some is embarrassing and some could cause mischief and real damage if disclosed.
Mary Wright is the Founding Editor of HR Gazette, an online magazine for HR professionals and employment lawyers. She is an employment lawyer with 25+ years' experience in helping employers reach workable business solutions to complex human resource problems. She is currently a Shareholder with Ogletree Deakins and the firm's former General Counsel. Connect with Mary.