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Good practice

Does GDPR prevent me sharing with other staff the fact that someone has tested positive?

Jisc’s subject specialist in strategy and Law, John Kelly outlines the importance of treating information about staff member’s health as the law requires.

Special category data

As part of managing and co-ordinating absences it is important to keep in mind that all of the information about a member of staff’s illness is considered “special category data” in terms of data protection law. That is the starting point.

Special category data is personal data that needs more protection because it is sensitive. Of course, it can still be processed – as long as appropriate safeguards are in place.

Essentially what that means is that you should only collect and keep the minimum amount of information needed to fulfil the purpose.  

And that is a general principle.

ICO Guidance

The Information commissioner’s office (ICO) has up to date guidance on the safeguards needed.

The guidance tackles tricky questions such as:

  • How you can share the fact that someone has tested positive with other staff. And what you need to take into account if you are planning to disclose this information to others.

And the short answer is that yes you can share this information with staff and third parties where necessary. As well as respecting confidentiality you need to take a proportionate and sensible approach and be transparent about what is being done.

Top tip

  • “The ideal processing solution would achieve the desired aim in the least intrusive way possible.” ICO Guidance

Consult, include and involve your data protection officer

Of course, colleges and universities have lots of experience of dealing with personal data of this kind. Remember that data protection rules continue to apply.

Final tip is to remember too to involve your data protection officer when plans are being made to deal with absences and absence planning and when dealing with more and more staff that are working from home.

John X Kelly Subject specialist: strategy (law) at Jisc

By John X Kelly

My experience includes delivering expertise in intellectual property law and information law to further and higher education.

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