Personnel files: Going digital while staying compliant

April 19, 2021

Personnel files

With more people than ever working from home, the convenience and ease of digital filing systems are more relevant than ever. 

This fact was driven home early last year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As offices locked down, our team at Cassell Plan Audits quickly realized how inconvenient paper filing systems truly were. 

Whenever we needed a file, it meant either finding a team member to scan and email the documents, or trying to figure out a safe way to visit the office. In cases where everyone was working remotely, neither was a reasonable possibility. 

Though personnel records have traditionally been stored as physical documents, in recent years we’ve seen a shift toward digitization… and COVID-19 simply sped up the trend. Thanks to the realities of remote work (as necessitated by a pandemic), moving away from hard copies simply makes sense.

After all, electronic filing systems lead to easier access. When files are stored in the cloud, the need to come into an office and touch each folder and document disappears.

But moving toward a paperless future may raise questions about keeping records secure, especially when it comes to sensitive records such as personnel files. While the law does allow for electronic document maintenance, employers must remain mindful of the regulations that govern paperless retention, as well as security best practices.

Here’s what you should know about staying compliant and keeping information safe while taking your personnel files digital.

Digitizing personnel records: What’s required by law?

If you’re concerned with staying in compliance with regulations while transitioning to a paperless storage system, awareness of laws is key. On the federal level, most requirements revolve around ensuring records are:

  • Stored safely and securely
  • In compliance with disclosure or reporting requirements
  • Protected to ensure records’ accuracy, authenticity, integrity and reliability
  • Organized so files can be found easily
  • Convertible into readable, legible paper copies if needed

States may regulate electronic document storage, too. Be sure to check for specific regulations that may apply in your state.

How long should electronic personnel records be stored?

Federal law specifies how long an employer must keep certain personnel documents. For example, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires records be kept for one year from the date of separation/termination, while the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act require all payroll records be retained for three years.

The Employment Retirement Income Security Act provisions call for some records to be kept for six years, and others to be kept… indefinitely. Of course, you’ll also want to check for any specific state laws that may apply. Phew!

Fortunately, going digital makes it easy to remain within compliance with both state and federal regulations. Not only can you set automated reminders for deletion, you don’t have to worry about paperwork taking up physical space in a filing cabinet.

How can employers keep sensitive documents accessible and safe?

Keeping electronic information safe starts with your filing system. When setting up your electronic storage system:

  • Implement best-practice security measures
  • Restrict access to authorized individuals
  • Utilize off-site data back-up
  • Automate destruction protocols

What if you can’t scan or transfer a paper document into digital format without losing information or accuracy? Simple: Keep the paper copy.

When you’re transitioning from paper to digital, build efficiency into the record-keeping system. The goal lies in structuring a searchable, scalable and adaptable filing system.

If you want to learn more about staying compliant while going paperless, Cassel Plan Audits can help! Contact us at 630.886.7669 for more information or to schedule a virtual appointment.

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