Legal Risks In Electronic Personnel Records

Most organisations now prefer to manage their staff records electronically. And this gives rise to all sorts of legal and business issues including data protection, information security, and for how long you need to keep individual records.

Personnel records provide the basis for decision-making when managing your employees. This includes human resources forecasting and planning, recruitment and selection, employment (including promotion, transfers, disciplinary procedures, termination and redundancy), education and training, pay administration, health and safety, and individual welfare.

The benefits of keeping personnel records electronically are many. These include: increased speed and efficiency with which information can be accessed by authorised users; cheaper storage over paper-based records; better staff time deployment; easier information re-arrangement, aggregation, comparison and analysis; data sharing; multi-sequences interrogations (e.g. alphabetically, numerically, or geographically); linking to other databases (e.g. payroll and pensions); and the detection of irregularities such as fraud.

Keeping electronic personnel records may have an effect upon another’s personal rights, including that person’s right to work, their standing in society, promotion paths, eligibility for training, right to entitlements, including pensions, medical contributory schemes, insurance, and so on.

Human Resources and employment law

Employment law is a complicated area because of the large amount of case-law that goes hand-in-hand with legislation. In all circumstances, you must get proper legal advice from an employment law specialist.

To achieve the objectives of serving the employer and the employee, it is in the interest of the organisation and the individual that the records meet basic criteria.

Electronic personnel records must

  • be accurate
  • contain verified information
  • contain all the required information
  • be trusted by all parties involved

Legal framework for employment

The legal framework governing employment varies from country to country and offers different degrees of employment protection to employees. The laws and regulations governing the public sector may also be different from those governing the private sector.

All personnel work should conform to the statutory employment framework within the country and to any subordinate regulations. Many countries have legislation covering a variety of employment issues, trade union disputes, and worker compensation, as well as specific sector rules, e.g. central government. The records manager and those in charge of IT projects must be familiar with the provisions of employment legislation as they relate to records care.

In any organisation, personnel officers must be fully aware of the local statutory requirements and other regulations governing conditions of employment. They should be alert to the implications of changes to employment law. There will also be occasions when more expert advice and guidance should be sought from outside the organisation.

Purpose of legal framework

The overriding purpose of the legal framework for managing personnel is to

  • define the rights and obligations of employers
  • define the rights and obligations of employees
  • establish mechanisms for resolving disputes between employers and employees (whether at the level of individual grievances or more widespread disputes).

Within the legal framework, there is scope for organisations to manage their personnel functions with varying degrees of flexibility. The statutory framework will almost certainly vary from country to country, but it is likely to protect employees in a number of ways.

Personal protections

For example, a person applying for a job may be protected against some or all of the following:

  • race, sex, colour and age discrimination
  • discrimination as either members or non-members of a trade union or political party
  • discrimination against a disability
  • being required to declare ‘spent offences’ when a given period of time has expired (a ‘spent offence’ is one where the penalty has already been served).

Recording such personal protections should follow data protection rules on the use of sensitive personal data. As a general principle sensitive personal data should be encrypted for additional security.

On starting work, employees may be entitled to some or all of the following:

  • protection against dismissal or other unfavourable treatment on the grounds of race, sex, politics or trade union activity
  • time off, maybe with pay, for ante-natal care
  • time off, maybe with pay, for trade union duties
  • time off, maybe with pay, for safety representative duties
  • time off, maybe with pay, for public duties
  • written statement of terms of contract
  • itemised pay statement
  • consultation in the event of redundancies

Strategic actions

It is essential that your organisation's electronic personnel records are kept in good order so that you can demonstrate the organisation’s compliance with the laws or policies in force, if required.

When a human resources plan is developed around electronic record-keeping, personnel departments should maintain the master copy. Department heads should have a copy of the most up-to-date plan.

Records of the entire planning process should be kept by the personnel department for three planning cycles; updates should be kept until shortly after the next full-scale plan is completed.

Electronic personnel records

Further information