For the Record—What Document Retention Policy Does Your Business Have in Place?
Business owners know that paperwork can be a lot of work. There are personnel files, insurance and benefit records, investigative files, government forms, payroll— and the list seemingly never ends. As a result, it is imperative that employers have a record retention policy in place before a mountain of paperwork overruns the office. All employers, and especially their Human Resources departments, should know not only where to store documents, but also how long to keep them and who is in charge of necessary cataloging.
I recommend that you consider each piece of paper in your business as a piece of evidence that may be needed in the future. In the event of a wrongful discharge case, for example, what records will evidence your action with respect to that employee? In addition, if you do find yourself in court without relevant records, a formal destruction policy that shows why the records are no longer in existence is much less suspicious than an unexplained disappearance.
Each state and federal agency has its own set of document retention timelines. While getting rid of a document before its time can be extremely detrimental, keeping records past the necessary period can lead to messy, overly voluminous files. Records should be streamlined and easy to find; if you have records dating back decades (and no applicable law requires such preservation), you are wasting valuable operating space and perhaps creating a “needle in the haystack” scenario. The best practice is to seek counsel for an individualized policy and specific preservation requirements.
If your current policy does not address electronic documents such as emails, web pages, or social media snippets, then it is time for an updated policy. In addition, new software may be extraordinarily beneficial to preserve electronic data. For example, it is now possible to use electronic imaging to record and store digital records. Online storage of records may cost more and require professional services, but it will save storage room and protect against loss or damage of information in the long run.