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sharing employee data in a mental health emergency

Can employers share employee data in a mental health emergency?

Posted by HR & Employment Team

Data protection law DOES allow organisations to share personal information in an urgent or emergency situation, including to help them prevent loss of life or serious physical, emotional or mental harm.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published guidance intended to give employers more certainty about sharing their workers’ personal details in the event of a mental health emergency.

What is classed as a mental health emergency?

You may find a mental health emergency (or a mental health crisis) more difficult to recognise than a person’s physical health emergency. Symptoms of mental health emergencies can vary from person to person and it can be difficult to judge when a situation becomes an emergency.

For the purposes of this guidance, the ICO defines a mental health emergency as a situation in which you believe that someone is at risk of serious harm to themselves, or others, because of their mental health. This can include the potential loss of life.

Is mental health information different to health information under data protection law?

No, data protection law does not distinguish between them, and the definition of health information covers physical or mental health information. The same obligations apply to processing information about your workers’ mental health as their physical health.

ICO Head of Regulatory Strategy, Chris Hogan, said that the ICO wanted to reassure employers that, during a mental health emergency, they should share necessary and proportionate information without delay with relevant and appropriate emergency services or health professionals.

“It is a good idea to plan ahead,” he went on, “as this will help you to make well informed decisions if you need to. Our guidance will help you do that and includes useful case studies to illustrate how the law can work in practice.”

The new publication is part of a range of guidance produced by the ICO to help employers look after personal information in line with data protection law.

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