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Safeguarding your privacy during COVID-19 and the proper way for employers to collect information


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IDAHO FALLS – As businesses reopen, employees and customers are participating in procedures to help protect everyone’s health. But as you take part in these steps, knowing how your information is protected is essential. Navigating this type of health management is uncharted territory for businesses, and while they are doing the best they can, most are charting their own course.

“Safeguarding privacy is important for business,” said Better Business Bureau NW+P CEO Tyler Andrew. “Protecting personal information applies to both customers and employees and can be done in a way that also creates a safer place to work in the era of COVID-19.”

Tracking and contact-tracing solutions are being considered and implemented throughout the country to help contain the spread of the coronavirus. High-tech solutions include smartphone applications that employees can download, which will track and store proximity data or use other means to determine location. If a user is diagnosed with COVID-19, data collected by the smartphone app can be used to trigger notifications to other employees (and outsiders) who have crossed paths (within six feet) with the infected person.

While tracing apps are sophisticated, not all employers want or need such technology. Businesses are being encouraged to find simple ways to monitor and track employee health and workplace exposure. For instance, some employers are mandating employees use a no-touch digital thermometer and fill out a symptom questionnaire every day before entering the office.

As procedures and technology to track COVID-19 and trace contacts advance, privacy and security issues loom. It is the employer’s responsibility to understand how all employee data that is collected by any means will be protected, stored, used, and disposed.

The BBB teamed up with the Federal Trade Commission to provide people with information to consider. While it is legal for employers to mandate their employees get tested for COVID-19 before returning to work, take daily temperatures, and participate in contact-tracing solutions, companies need to tread carefully when documenting and storing personal health information. Legal experts warn that asking employees to disclose health information, especially if they are asymptomatic, could be challenged and open the company up to legal liability.

These are some specific points businesses should ask themselves.

  • What information do employees receive in connection with a suspected exposure?
  • How is the data stored securely and for how long?
  • Who has access to the collected data?

To be successful, employers should educate their employees about any tracking and contact-tracing solutions they put in place, including how notifications look, what questions they will be asked, and how the information will be used. This is critical to not only assess data-privacy issues and concerns but to prevent employees from being conned by fake contact tracer scams that have recently been reported to BBB and the FTC.