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Making the leap to electronic records: 4 legal considerations

by on
in Office Management,Records Retention

Given the low cost and the easy accessibility of electronic records storage, many employers are making the digital leap to “paperless” HR. These days, most records are created and maintained electronically, and some never even make their way to paper.

Most paper records can be scanned into electronic form, reducing storage costs and allowing users to preserve and access vast databases of records with the click of a mouse.

But despite the many benefits of going paperless, a host of legal problems could derail even the best-intentioned digital records plan.

Develop an efficient, legal electronic records system — Personnel Records: What to Keep, What to Toss?

Carefully consider these legal issues when transitioning to an electronic personnel records system:

1. Employees can review their records, paper or electronic

The obligation to produce an employee’s personnel record extends to all covered records, including electronic data. Comply by allowing the employee to review the record during business hours in the presence of a company official or producing a copy of the personnel record without charge upon an employee’s request.

2. Records must be accessible

Store electronic personnel records in an accessible, organized manner so you can timely produce a personnel record upon a lawful request. Unless your electronic storage system is well-organized and accessible, you might not have enough time to produce a personnel record.

Quick access to all necessary files, searchability and the ability to cull records are essential elements of an effective electronic storage system.

Learn how electronic storage requirements differ from paper requirements—and how to comply with both sets—without going nuts!

3. Keep e-records confidential

Personnel records often include information that employers must keep confidential, such as employee medical records, drug testing records, Social Security numbers and credit reports. Employee files may also include sensitive information that should be maintained confidentially, such as pay records, leave requests and performance or termination data.

When dealing with physical documents, employers can safeguard files by keeping them in locked cabinets in a locked office and providing keys only to authorized individuals.

Employers must take similar virtual measures in the electronic realm—such as limiting access with security settings, password protection and data encryption—to ensure that electronic records can be viewed only by authorized individuals. Security measures are vital where storage is in “the cloud”—accessible on the web and hosted on a remote server not maintained by the employer on its premises.

As in the case of paper records, employers must ensure that their electronic storage system follows the rules that apply to particularly sensitive information, such as medical data or drug testing results. By law, those documents must be stored confidentially in a file that is separate from an employee’s personnel file.

For various legal reasons, I-9 forms should also be maintained separately from personnel records.

4. Plan retention, destruction

Think carefully about how long to preserve personnel records and when to destroy them.

Even though maintaining electronic files costs very little, storing electronic records indefinitely can be counterproductive—for example, in cases where a court orders an employer to produce damaging electronic personnel records that it could have lawfully destroyed at an earlier date.

Many businesses implement document retention and destruction policies that set minimum retention periods, while providing for the eventual destruction of unnecessary documents. If you're trying to develop a records retention and destruction policy, make sure you comply with all applicable laws.

Fact is, handling employee records is no longer a minor logistical headache. It’s a legal minefield and one little misstep can literally blow your company – and career – away.

You need a system you can trust. A foolproof system. A clear, step-by-step system that makes sure you can keep what matters, toss what doesn’t and maintain everything efficiently.

The minute you go to work with Personnel Records: What to Keep, What to Toss, you eliminate all that dangerous guesswork, including:
book cover
  • Exactly how long to retain job applications, résumés, job descriptions, disciplinary letters, attendance records, leave requests, medical-related data, employment agreements, payroll records, salary information, benefits information and more
  • Which documents need to be maintained in separate files – and why
  • How to handle medical records, and who should – and should not – have access to those files
  • How to create documentation for performance reviews, investigations and discipline so they stave off lawsuits and stand up in court
  • What to do when employees (or lawyers) ask to review personnel files
  • Best practices for destroying records – safely
Get your copy today!

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