Human resources records are changing. Less than five years ago, the most common type of HR record was a paper personnel file, usually containing standard categories of paper documents. Companies not only employ online recruiting and application processes and enterprise-wide personnel databases, but many day-to-day employee communications take the form of email or instant messaging. As these records become more prevalent in the daily functions performed by a human resources department, they also become more important in employment-related litigation. The changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that took effect in December 2006 have received much press but little praise. Interestingly, many of the key decisions relating to electronic records, both before and after the rule changes, were in the area of employment disputes.
“Record Retention Issues for Human Resources” (HR Advisor, March/April 2008), by Richmond partner Rodney Satterwhite, outlines some of the specific aspects of records retention of Human Resources related materials, and discusses some of the employment-related court decisions that bear on this topic. The increased importance of electronic information in the workplace will have a profound effect on employment litigation. The first stages of that impact are underway, in the form of the newly-revised Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. These changes create unique issues and opportunities for Human Resources professionals and departments. Without a doubt, the first step for departments is to audit their existing materials, and prepare a thoughtful and realistic records retention policy.
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