• Jack Arnston

Taming Your Human Resources Documents


More than any other area of an organization, Human Resources departments need to retain and secure a variety of documents for a very long time. Advancements over the last few years have reduced the amount of paper that is printed, filled out, signed and returned; especially since e-forms are widely used today. However, that does not eliminate the need to organize, store and secure these documents. Some departments continue to print and manually store documents. Some store them within their Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS), or Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS). Still others use a separate document management system.


So, which system is best?

As a disclaimer, I acknowledge that I am biased when it comes to saving documents electronically. Our company is eleven years old and we have never had a filing cabinet. With that said, I cannot understand, or promote, the use of paper filing systems for HR Departments. They are inefficient, wasteful, expensive, vulnerable and consume valuable floor space in an office.


Let’s take a minute to break that down. Inefficiencies begin with the creation of paper, continuing to the time required to initially file it, to the time it takes to retrieve a document, prep it for viewing and then refiling it. Add to that separated employee files need to be purged annually and stored separately. All of these tasks involve human intervention. Additionally, paper documents and files are by nature, susceptible to security and compliance breaches. I will assume that you are using locks on your file cabinets and separated employee files are also secured properly. Let’s also assume that no one can break into your locked cabinets. So what is the problem? What happens when a manager or employee asks to view a folder? If the folder is taken back to that person's desk you are at risk. Furthermore, many managers who are located remotely from a centralized HR department will knowingly or unknowingly save copies of employee files for their convenience. This practice undermines all of your efforts to enforce security and compliance.


My HRMS/HRIS system allows me to store images, is there anything wrong with that?

Most software that is designed for HR departments to streamline and automate your HR department offers a mechanism for storing and routing digital documents. An obvious advantage is that everything is together and accessible in one place. Issues can occur, however, if the images and metadata (index values) are imbedded within the HR software. Worse yet, if the images are saved and stored in the database. So, what’s the problem? Well what happens if you decide to change platforms? It is hard enough to extract data from one system, reform it, and move it to a new system. It’s even more complicated with images. In some cases, it can be nearly impossible and very expensive.


Consider a complimentary Document Management System

The majority of HR systems are designed around a database that stores binary information. Storing images in the same system is often an afterthought. Consider instead, the use of a document management system to complement your HRMS or HRIS system. Using a best of breed document management system will provide you with software designed and written to store images. Most systems provide hooks for image enabling your HR software. This provides you with the best of both worlds, storing your data in one system and your images in another. It also makes life much simpler if you decide to transition to either a new HR software or document management solution. What you are looking for are systems that complement each other, thus providing a stronger overall solution for your department.


Backfile conversion, what to scan and what to keep in paper form

One question we are always asked is what to do with the existing employee files. Unlike other applications that have short retention periods for the documents, personnel files need to be retained for an extended period of time. Our recommendation will vary depending on the size of the files, but as a rule of thumb you should scan all of your current employee files and retain the separated files in paper form.


When scanning the current files, it is important to evaluate how you will need to access them in the future as it will determine the effort necessary for prepping the documents for scanning. As an example, we have a client that created over 140 different document types for organizing their personnel files. This detailed breakdown of the files happened over a long period of time. When we began to evaluate all of these document types they found that they could consolidate and reduce that number to around 80. Still a big number, but much more manageable. We then develop a system for organizing and identifying the different documents within the folder to make the scan process as efficient as possible. Still a lot of work, but much more manageable for them.


Remember to account for record destruction.

One final note. Design your system with document retention in mind. You never want to retain documents longer than you legally need to. Would with your council to define your retention schedule by document type. Also, identify the trigger that starts the clock, such as a separation date. Then design your system to accommodate these needs. Taking some time on the front end of the project to work out these issues will save you much anguish on the back end.

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