NPC updates return-to-work, remote work data privacy guidelines

Now that the Philippine government has eased quarantine restrictions, some companies are gradually allowing employees to work at the office. There are companies that opted to keep employees working remotely as a way of helping put a stop to the spread of COVID-19.

The hybrid setup means employers must craft and adopt new guidelines as a response to the new reality.

“We expect employers, whether in the government or the private sector, to process personal data responsibly and with accountability in order to address existing health threats brought by COVID-19,” said Commissioner Raymund Liboro, National Privacy Commission (NPC) in a statement. “We also expect employees to cooperate to a reasonable and appropriate collection of their information to mitigate COVID-19 related risks and keep their co-workers and visitors safe.”

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NPC said the guidelines are intended to produce best practices in the new work landscape.

NPC supports the need to collect additional personal data from returning employees including health information from employees during the pandemic. However, employers must adhere to data privacy principles of transparency, legitimate purpose, and proportionality. Collect only the necessary data and nothing more.

Personal data

“Employers may collect personal data that are necessary for a specified and legitimate purpose to help control the spread of the virus and keep their workers and visitors safe,” the NPC said.

NPC also advises employers to set a health information policy within the company considering the determination of who is authorized to gather the information, who should know the results, how to secure the information, and how to disclose it to authorities when necessary.

NPC also said the conduct of temperature checks is allowed under the existing issuances of the various public authorities. Employees should find it reasonable to be screened and must cooperate with their employers to ensure the safety of all returning employees. Employers are expected to use reasonable measures to ensure privacy when doing the collection, like instructing security guards or other personnel to refrain from publicly announcing a person’s temperature results and putting in place protocols to implement minimum health standards mindful of the rights and freedoms of data subjects.

Travel history

Employees should also disclose their travel history as part of medical assessment and employers may collect such data in compliance with the health department’s requirements.

However, employee data disclosures must be limited to health authorities following all existing protocols on handling COVID-19.

“The National Privacy Commission remains steadfast that in this extraordinary time, public health remains our primary concern and that the Data Privacy Act is not a hindrance to beating COVID-19,” Liboro said. “It is our view that the effective use of personal data is crucial in winning this battle and recovering in its aftermath. And we must remain vigilant in this fight by being mindful of our own health and the health and safety of others.”