In an article for The Society for Human Resource Management’s “HR Magazine,” labor and employment partner Susan Kline shared tips for HR practitioners on handling and storing employment records, including reviewing and updating organizational policies and practices regarding record retention.
First, Kline suggested creating a schedule. “HR should have at hand and periodically update a chart for each type of record to be retained, the primary custodian, the retention period, and the law or regulation that governs how long to retain that particular record,” she explained.
Second, Kline recommended considering restricting access. She said, “Anticipate requests for personnel file reviews from current or former employees and have a consistent response to avoid discrimination claims.”
Third, Kline said HR professionals should maintain separate files. Specifically, they should have a system in place to collect copies of supervisors’ informal performance management notes, as well as key email or even text messages, to add to personnel records.
“If the information might lead to any form of adverse personnel action down the road, the best practice is to make sure it gets into the individual’s personnel record in a timely manner,” Kline noted, “and that can be challenging for electronic communications.” She added, “Any such records are business records of the organization and subject to discovery.”
Fourth, Kline discussed going electronic. “With so much remote work, it’s become increasingly important to communicate expectations to HR professionals and people leaders about working offline with confidential personnel documents,” she stated.
Additionally, Kline mentioned that in email retention, communication and consistency are key. “Employees must be aware when correspondence will no longer be accessible, at least without going into data archives,” she said. “To avoid being accused of spoliation of evidence in legal action, the retention protocol must be followed consistently and according to the authorized procedure.”
Kline also said organizations need a procedure for suspending the standard deletion practice to retain any correspondence that could be relevant to a pending or threatened legal action.
In conclusion, Kline addressed ways to improve. “As retention methods change, consider periodic audits based on the [updated] master records retention chart to ensure that, if needed, all required records can be accessed promptly for a selected sample of applicants and current and former employees,” she said.