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January 28, 2010
Managing Electronic HR Records: 10 Tips for Moving Toward a Paperless Office

Trading the seemingly endless slog through a mountain of papers for record management at your fingertips holds the promise of increasing efficiency, saving money, and at the same time, doing a little good for the environment. That is why transitioning to a paperless office is so appealing to many HR professionals.

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One major obstacle for HR is determining the permissibility of storing legally required documents electronically. Additionally, many in HR worry about navigating employment laws related to record retention schedules when documents are not available in hard copy. Unfortunately, at this time, there is no comprehensive federal or state law governing electronic records retention and management, and a totally paperless office is not yet possible.

However, there is some good news. Federal and state agencies are increasingly permitting electronic record retention. For example: the DHS allows employers to fill out and store I-9 forms electronically; the EEOC has approved of electronic recordkeeping for Title VII, ADA, and ADEA documents; ERISA regulations expressly permit electronic recordkeeping; and the OFCCP has issued a directive regarding electronic recordkeeping for federal contractors. Additionally, the federal E-SIGN law generally makes electronic signatures and contracts just as legal and enforceable as paper contracts signed in ink for almost all transactions.

ERISA regulations in particular provide useful guidance for setting up an electronic recordkeeping system (even for employers not covered by the law). The following 10 tips are primarily gleaned from those regulations and will help you develop a (almost) paperless office and manage your electronic records.

  • Make sure your electronic recordkeeping system has reasonable controls to ensure the integrity, accuracy, authenticity and reliability of the records.
  • Do not adopt an electronic recordkeeping system that is in any way restricted so that reporting and disclosure requirements required by law would be compromised.
  • Maintain your electronic records in reasonable order and in a safe and accessible place, so that they may be readily inspected or examined, if necessary. For example, the recordkeeping system should be capable of indexing, retaining, preserving, retrieving and reproducing the electronic records.
  • Make sure that electronic records can be readily converted into legible and readable paper copy.
  • Electronic records also should have a high degree of legibility and readability when displayed on a video display terminal or other method of electronic transmission.
  • Establish and implement records management practices. Such practices should include: following procedures for labeling of electronically maintained or retained records; providing a secure storage environment; creating back-up electronic copies and selecting an off-site storage location; observing a quality assurance program that incorporates regular evaluations of the electronic recordkeeping system including periodic checks of electronically maintained records; and retaining paper copies of records that cannot be clearly, accurately or completely transferred to an electronic recordkeeping system.
  • Adhere to records management best practices by maintaining the confidentiality of medical records and other sensitive information.
  • Generally, original paper records may be disposed of any time after they are transferred to an electronic recordkeeping system, except that original records should not be discarded if the electronic record would not constitute a duplicate or substitute record as required by state or federal law.
  • Have a system in place that allows you to follow record retention guidelines. This means destroying records in a timely manner. Hitting the “delete” button is not likely to be sufficient. The documents that are no longer needed should not be retrievable at a later date. And, don't forget, if litigation is pending or you are aware that litigation is likely, do not destroy relevant documents—even if they are scheduled for disposal.
  • Because the law is evolving in this area, consult with your attorney to make sure that your electronic retention and destruction system complies with the most current federal and state law.

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