Scrase Law Employment Solicitors

Information sharing during mental health emergencies at work

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published guidance for employers on sharing information during mental health emergencies at work.

The guidance clarifies that data protection legislation allows employers to share personal information in an urgent or emergency situation and encourages employers to plan ahead so that they can make ‘timely’ decisions if they need to.

Mental health emergencies at work

Key aspects of the guidance include:

What is a mental health emergency?  The ICO considers this to be a situation in which the employer believes that someone is at risk of serious harm to themselves, or others, because of their mental health, which can include potential loss of life.

Can an employer share an employee’s information in a mental health emergency?  Yes.  The guidance clarifies that during a mental health emergency, an employer should share necessary and proportionate information without delay with relevant and appropriate emergency services or health professionals.

Can an employer share an employee’s information with the employee’s emergency contact?  Yes, although there is a reminder that employers will not necessarily know the nature of the relationship with the emergency contact.  It might therefore be inappropriate to share all information with them.  The guidance gives an example of a different approach that may be appropriate when sharing information with an emergency contact.

How can employers plan ahead?  The ICO encourages employers put in place internal policies and processes for information sharing in an emergency, documenting the approach they intend to take.  Any policy must identify the lawful basis for sharing information and employees should be informed that their information may be shared in a mental health emergency.

What about GDPR?  Employers must identify a lawful basis to share information.  As health information is special category data, the employer must also identify a special category condition.   The guidance clarifies the lawful bases and special category conditions that are most likely to apply and gives examples for employers to consider. 

Comment

Employers may be reassured by the ICO’s clarification that they ‘will not get in trouble for sharing necessary and proportionate information with relevant and appropriate emergency services or health professionals that can help mitigate the risk of serious harm to the worker or others’.  The message is to focus on sharing information with the right people to protect the person involved or others from serious harm.

The ICO has also published separate guidance for employers to help them understand their data protection obligations when handling employee health information.

04 July 2024

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