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What factors should we consider when converting personnel files from hard copy to electronic format?

In general, employers are free to maintain their records in any format they wish, and for a variety of practical reasons, employers may wish to maintain electronic rather than hard copy files. Maintaining employment records in an electronic format relieves employers of the need to provide physical storage space for employment records over a span of many years, which may save money and time. Also, electronic storage facilitates easy retrieval of information and allows for efficient access to documents. Organizations may also elect to go paperless as part of a commitment to sustainability.

When implementing such a conversion, employers must follow the guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Labor in its Final Rules Relating to Use of Electronic Communication and Recordkeeping Technologies by Employee Pension and Welfare Benefit Plans for documents governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Employers may choose to use this as a standard for all electronic record-keeping. These rules focus on key topics such as safety, accessibility, privacy, records management and retention of paper copies.

When managing personnel records, HR should create a data storage strategy in conjunction with IT that includes:

  • Understanding the laws governing HR records. Employers need to know what they have to keep and for how long and be aware of the possible legal problems should they fail to retain records properly.
  • Keeping up with evolving options for records storage to ensure that information does not become trapped in obsolete technology.
  • Learning about the different types of storage media to talk knowledgeably with IT about how to store personnel records.
  • Considering offsite records storage, either through transporting tapes or disks to a storage firm or to another of the employer's own locations, or sending data over the Internet to online storage firms.


Selecting a vendor with a proven track record of providing reliable service and appropriate security features, such as firewalls and passwords for the data, and secure backups also provides a level of expertise to the conversion and storage of information; the vendor will help HR and IT with key decisions.

A strong defense in an employment-related lawsuit typically depends on the documentation kept by the managers involved in the situation. All records pertaining to an employment dispute must be kept for the duration of the litigation, which may reach final resolution years after the original event. Taking the time to involve company stakeholders, outside counsel and the expertise of a qualified vendor will help ensure adequate data retention and storage protocols.



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