Image result for cardboard box record storageAs reported by CBC, B.C. Pension Corporation announced a data breach involving pension plan records after discovering a box containing microfiche could not be found following a recent office move. The box contained personal information (names, social insurance numbers and dates of birth) on approximately 8,000 pension plan participants. The company employed those participants during the period 1982 to 1997. Learning of this incident, persons responsible for pension plan administration might be wondering how secure are their facilities (or their service provider’s facilities) for remote storage. And, pension plan participants might be wondering why do plans need this information and for so long.

In the U.S., the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) governs the administration of pension plans, and the law includes specific record retention requirements. For example, persons who are responsible for filing plan reports must “maintain records to provide sufficient detail to verify, explain, clarify and check for accuracy and completeness.” ERISA Section 107. In addition, ERISA requires employers to maintain sufficient records to determine benefits due to employees. ERISA Section 209. Because employees may not retire for many years after accruing benefits under the pension plan, plans need to maintain records until plan participants retire and the records must be sufficient to determine benefits under the plan.

These record retention requirements present important issues for employers, plan administrators, and pension plan service providers. We have written about pension plans experiencing data breaches caused by malicious attackers. But, relatively straightforward administrative recordkeeping activities also can result personal information being compromised.  In late 2016, the ERISA Advisory Council, a 15-member body appointed by the Secretary of Labor to provide guidance on employee benefit plans, shared with the federal Department of Labor some considerations concerning cybersecurity. To date, the DOL has not issued any formal guidance on these recommendations, however, employers, plan administrators, and pension plan service providers should revisit their procedures for handling sensitive personal information maintained in their pension plan records.

According to the Council’s recommendations, there are four major areas for effective practices and policies: (i) data management; (ii) technology management; (iii) service provider management; and (iv) people issues. This is a good list to work from. However, while not an exhaustive list, the following action items may help to avoid incidents like the one discussed above:

  • Retain only the data that is needed; if certain data elements can be redacted, removed them;
  • Maintain an inventory of records that are retained regardless of format, and where to find them;
  • Outline a clear process for moving records, and track location and inventory during the move; and
  • Delete records that are no longer needed; confirm service providers have done so, as applicable.

Of course, no set of safeguards for protecting personal information will prevent all kinds of compromises to it. Mistakes happen, so employers and plan administrators should be prepared by developing and maintaining incident response plans and practice them.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently leads the firm’s Privacy, e-Communication and Data Security Practice, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently leads the firm’s Privacy, e-Communication and Data Security Practice, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Mr. Lazzarotti also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits Practice Group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Mr. Lazzarotti counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Mr. Lazzarotti’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Mr. Lazzarotti speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Mr. Lazzarotti served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.