On March 6, 2020, the French Supervisory Authority (“CNIL”) released a statement on processing personal data in light of COVID-19.

The CNIL notes that while everyone should take measures to prevent the spread of the virus, such efforts must comply with applicable data protection rules, in particular when collecting and processing sensitive health data. As a result, employers should not collect in a generalized manner information about possible symptoms of the disease from employees and their relatives. For example, it does not feel it is appropriate for employers to subject employees and visitors to regular temperature checks or to collect health data from them through questionnaires.  The CNIL’s position, in this respect, is similar to the guidance released by Italy’s Garante, which we discuss here in a separate post.

The CNIL also notes that pursuant to applicable labor laws, an employer is required to guarantee the security and safety of its employees and is thus allowed to:

  • invite employees to report possible individual risks of exposure;
  • provide dedicated channels for reporting concerns; and
  • promote schemes to enable staff to work remotely.

Relevant information may be shared with competent authorities, like local health authorities and disease control centres.

The statement also acknowledges that under applicable labor laws, every employee must take measures to protect his or her own health and the health and safety of others. They must inform their employer if they suspect being exposed to the virus.

Confusingly, the statement also states that the evaluation and collection of health and whereabouts data is the prerogative of competent health bodies.  The CNIL calls on all parties involved to follow the instructions of competent health authorities and only to collect health data requested by those bodies.  Covington is continuing to track the release of guidance from European data privacy regulators relating to COVID-19, although to date only a small number of regulators, including those in Italy, Poland, and Denmark, have released such guidance.