HR/Personnel Records – The backlog is the most painful – Part 3 of 5

The backlog is the most painful – Part 3

I’ll start with a warning that there’s no magical archive box that’s going to solve all of your backlog problems!

Shoving all the records into storage and hoping no one notices only results in a growing offsite storage bill.  You will always create HR records containing personal data, and these will eventually expire, contributing to the backlog.

For that, I’m not sorry.  It means that you have to pay attention to your records and look after them. Don’t just let them die on a shelf in storage forevermore simply because you don’t need them.  Or at least, let’s hope you don’t need them in the future…

Stop the backlog of Records

The good news is that you can stop the backlog by taking a few easy steps.

Every organisation should have a leaver checklist. Your list will include things like what equipment needs to be returned and what systems access needs to be revoked.  It will also list the administrative procedures to be completed.

When an employee submits their intention to leave the organisation (i.e. resignation) or the employee is leaving through other means (e.g. you fired their arse),  you need to include an HR record review on this leaver checklist.  That review should include retrieving any key documentation to be kept for the longer-term – this is the documentation that you need to keep for more than 6 years.

Leaver Records Checklist

I can only provide you with a partial list of these documents.  Every organisation should conduct their own risk assessment to decide what they will need to keep for the longer-term.  The list of documents should not be excessive, and each document should fulfil a business need.  Your list will typically include the following:

  • A single document containing:
    • Employee number
    • Name
    • Dates employed
    • Details of locations worked and dates
    • Asbestos presence
    • Reason for leaving
    • Systems the employee had access to
  • Copy of ID/Passport
  • Job description
  • Contract
  • Final payslip
  • Pension information
  • Any kind of contractual agreements that go beyond their employment
  • If confirmation of asbestos, the accompanying risk assessment.
  • Documents which are needed for more than 6 years (per the company’s risk assessment)

You should create a bespoke list of documents that you need to keep, and then tick these off as you gather them.  The next step is to scan these documents and save them using a suitable naming convention.

By doing this as part of your administrative process for leavers,  you can send your paper files off to storage. When six years have passed years is up, you can bin the main file because you will have the summary information to hand.

Future Archiving

When you send any records off-site, ensure they are grouped in boxes by year rather than by A-Z.  You cannot add six years to the letter A to get your destruction date!

If your leaver files are already stored offsite and have been filed alphabetically, you should get them reboxed by leaving dates. The Offsite Storage Company can do this for you, or you can pull all the boxes back and do it yourself.  Once six years are up, you will be destroying individual files – often leaving half-empty boxes if they have been filed A-Z.   Half-empty boxes mean that you’re paying for the storage of stale air (not even fresh!).

Attacking the Backlog – Step 1

The first step is to scan your current files.  When it comes to building the summary for any future digital files, you will need to either screenshot or reprint if you destroy the paper files. Take caution on:

  • Scanning the whole HR file and destruction unless you have a legally admissible process, as HR records fit into a high risk.
  • Any scanning companies who state they are scanning to BSI10008 (Legal Admissibility and Evidential Weight)> This has had an overhaul this year and there are also many points that need to be audited to ensure the process is being followed.

The admissibility of the long-term files is less of an issue. Many legal claims made after six years tend to be based on things such as exposure to asbestos which have resulted in long-term health issues. If you use a qualified professional scanner, they will be able to help you flag documents to be kept and the rest can be deleted.

Attacking the Backlog – Step 2

Step two is to catalogue your archived files so that you know what you have in storage, along with appropriate metadata. Simply put, metadata is information about information. It is the tags that enable you to find something.  Metadata will enable you to bring individual files back when needed, rather than full files  e.g.

  • Name
  • Employee number
  • NI number
  • Year employment was terminated

If you don’t have the summary in place, you may need to keep your HR files for 126 years!  That is the maximum life of a person plus 6 years.  Obviously, not everyone will reach the age of 100+, but there are opportunities for pension claims by dependents as mentioned in Part 1 of this blog series.  Keeping records containing so much personal data on file is also bad for Data Protection compliance.  Do something about your backlog now rather than just leaving it!  You will need to retain the summary for retention based on when the subject is no longer has the potential to be working with vulnerable children and adults (for example as a Lollypop Person).  I would anticipate this being in the region of DOB+80 years, or 6 years after the employee is no longer working.

Record of a skeleton

When you fully destroy a file that has gone from ‘Full’ to ‘Summary’,  you need to maintain a skeleton entry.  This should be a short entry stating that someone by the name of  XXX was employed at your business between XXX dates. Their employee number was XXX.  This is to provide accountability in the event of any investigations.  You will be able to state who was working at your business during certain years if this information is required.

Once you know what you have and why you have it, you can then start applying review dates to the records and start destroying those that are out of date.

Picture of piles of files and paper resembling backlog

Future Part 4 & 5 

4. Deciding what HR records to scan, going paperless in HR and balancing risk

5. Moving forward and keeping it managed

The above is not legal advice, please check with a legal representative for your organisation before making any decisions about the destruction of files. We advise getting approved sign off of your retention schedules before destroying anything.  With no destruction comes poor compliance with Data Protection.

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HR/Personnel Records – The backlog is the most painful – Part 3 of 5