Employers are increasingly looking at the feasibility of scanning hard copies of various types of employment documents and retaining only the electronic copies in the routine course of business. Generally speaking, you are allowed to do that if you ensure that your electronic record maintenance systems are secure, accurate, reliable, and accessible (in that they permit rapid electronic retrieval and hard-copy production). However, certain legal regulations impose more detailed requirements for some types of documents, and evidentiary considerations may affect how you design your electronic document maintenance systems.
Practical considerations Before implementing an electronic document retention policy, employers must consider several issues beyond the specific agency regulations identified. For example, you should:
Consider scanning original documents into electronic form to retain as much information about the document as possible.
Establish a procedure under which the scanning of relevant documents and retention of original is implemented immediately if a lawsuit is filed. You will have a legal duty to maintain relevant documents in their original form and suspend their destruction or alteration as soon as you learn that litigation is imminent and until the lawsuit is resolved.
Account for ease of retrieval and searches when designing and implementing electronic document creation and storage protocols. For instance, the ability to search both content and metadata will be highly useful, and a uniform file-naming and location naming
Establish security protocols so that only authorized individuals can access each electronically maintained file. That includes creating a secure and reliable electronic storage environment, including off-site backup, and complete and secure destruction protocols for unneeded hard copies.
Consider creating a quality assurance program that includes regular evaluations and checks of the electronic record-keeping system.
Retain paper copies of any records that cannot be clearly, accurately, or completely transferred to an electronic record-keeping system (not just workers’ compensation and I-9 documentation).
Bottom line Whether your motivation is to go green, save money, improve efficiency, or reclaim valuable storage space, maintaining most personnel documents in an electronic format is generally acceptable. However, you should carefully examine each type of document commonly found in employee files and ensure it can be electronically maintained in compliance with various agency regulations. In addition, you should account for the need to recreate as much information about a hard-copy original as possible.