Q. Our office manager wants to move to a paperless system. Are there any documents that we must maintain in paper form?
A. This is a tricky question. Most employment laws require employers to keep certain records for a certain period of time. (For example, the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs requires covered employers to retain hiring data for two years.) At the same time, the laws and regulations covering record-keeping are silent on the medium in which that data must be stored.
In general, a company is free to move to a completely paperless system, provided it preserves all data in some form that is easily retrievable. Thus, applications, offer letters, disciplinary files, medical records and the like all can be stored electronically without violating the law. What is important is the ability—on as little as two days’ notice—to provide hard copies of all stored data for review by a requesting agency.
From a practical standpoint, however, you should maintain key documents in their original, hard-copy form. Should the company find itself in litigation, key documents (applications, offer letters, harassment complaints) are more easily attacked for their authenticity when employers present printouts of electronically stored versions. Plus, if the electronically stored version of a document was ever destroyed (for example, by a computer virus), the company could face significant liability related to the loss if no paper original existed.