We’ve all heard of identity theft but rarely connect the victim’s experience with the toll it can take on the workplace.

Identity theft has a big effect on employee productivity. Employees are not only impacted financially, but they also experience considerable distraction and emotional stress which leads to less time focused on work. It can take anywhere from 33 to more than 600 hours to restore an identity. And a lot of this must be done during business hours.

This means when a person has their identity stolen, there's another innocent victim: the employer. For these reasons, it's critical in today's digitized world to protect the personal identities of employees through benefit programs, vigilance, training and continual education.

Identity theft is on the rise. Last year alone, $16 billion was stolen from more than 15 million U.S. consumers, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. One reason for the rise in identity theft is due to the fact that we are living in a society and business environment that is increasingly connected. Today, we have mobile devices, laptops and even smart home devices that contain a wealth of personal information. Additionally, the prevalence of mobile devices both in the workplace and in our personal live means personal data is everywhere.

The result? Now more than ever, there’s an increased likelihood of identity theft affecting an employee, and in turn, the employer. That’s why HR and benefits managers need to focus on protecting employees (and their firm) with a number of steps.

Explore paid or voluntary benefits. First, nothing can prevent identity theft; it’s about protection and continuous monitoring. Identity theft protection services can be added as a paid or voluntary benefit, in order to show that the company is proactively working to protect employees’ personal information both within and outside the four walls of the office.

See also: Identity theft protection growing in popularity

Discuss mobile phone risks. Educate employees about mobile phone use that may pose a security risk either with company-issued phones or “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies. For example, encourage employees to turn off automatic connections to public Wi-Fi networks. Let them know that if a cellular network is available, it’s probably safer than public Wi-Fi.

Revisit employee policies. Ensure that best practices are continually followed and routinely updated around corporate email and internet usage, social media guidelines and mobile device/BYOD policies.

Create a telecommuting policy. If you don’t already have one in place, develop a policy that lets employees know how to keep sensitive company information private outside of the office. This policy should also educate employees on how to handle removable media, such as optical discs (Blu-ray discs, DVDs and CDs) and memory cards (CompactFlash cards, secure digital cards and memory sticks/USBs).

Provide guidance on password protection. Encourage employees to use unique passwords, and teach them that complex passwords increase safety. Consider having a company-approved password manager solution as added security for both your business and your employees.

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