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Last updated: 19.07.16

What you need to know about data protection in the workplace

Staff charged with handling data must have an in-depth understanding of The Data Protection Act and how it relates to their role and wider industry.

It is imperative that professionals whose duties involve collecting and/or using personal data are aware of their responsibilities when it comes to protecting that information. Failure to adhere to the Data Protection Act could result in catastrophic loss of information, or personal data being shared with those who have no right to see it, and could potentially use it in a harmful manner. It could also result in legal action being taken against their employer.

Ultimately, the consequences of failing to understand and apply the principles of the Data Protection Act can be huge, and for this reason employers must ensure that any staff with access to personal data are trained up on this area.

The Data Protection Act

As the Data Protection Act is key when it comes to keeping information safe, it is vital that employees not only know the legislation, but also understand the purpose of it. Why does it exist? And why is it so important? Only by looking into the reasoning behind the Act, and thinking about the consequences if it wasn’t in place, will people understand why they must follow it so closely.

The Data Protection Act has eight core principles, and it is essential that those handling data have an in-depth understanding of each one. The rules are as follows.

Everyone responsible for using data must make sure it is:

● used fairly and lawfully

● used for limited, specifically stated purposes

● used in a way that is adequate, relevant and not excessive

● accurate

● kept for no longer than is absolutely necessary

● handled according to people’s data protection rights

● kept safe and secure

● not transferred outside the European Economic Area (EEA) without adequate protection

Furthermore, for information deemed particularly sensitive, there is stronger legal protection. Information that comes under this umbrella can include ethnic background, political opinions, religious beliefs, health, sexual health and criminal records.

Application is key

However, it is not just about knowing the Act and its principles by rote; instead employees must identify exactly what these principles mean to them in their specific roles. It is essential that staff must know how the legislation relates to their day-to-day jobs, rather than seeing it as an abstract concept. This will help them to follow their organisation’s data protection policy, and also equip them to deal with any grey area situations that may arise.

To achieve an adequate understanding of data protection in the workplace, employees must also understand how key concerns relate to the sector they work in. While the Data Protection Act is a blanket law covering all industries, each sector is going to have its individual challenges and concerns as a result of it.

Enforcement and data breaches

While employees should follow the Data Protection Act based on their understanding of the legislation and how it relates to their role and the wider sector, it is also essential that they understand how the law is enforced, as well as the consequences should a data breach occur.

Not only will this hopefully lessen the risk of a data breach occurring, but it should ensure employees are prepared to deal with it should one take place.