Matters Column

Employee records are more than a walk in the park

May 20, 2016
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It seems like employee record keeping is all about common sense, so what can you write that people need to hear or would find interesting?

It’s like watering the grass when it’s dry: Everyone knows that. Well, keeping the lawn alive has become much more complex over the years, with fertilizers for different times of the year, seed for full sun or full shade, knowing which types of leaves need to be raked up right away, using weed and crab grass preventives, and don’t forget about mole and grub eradication.

Employee record keeping has become more complex, too.

From the humble beginnings of name and rate of pay, the number of records has increased dramatically, and the rules and requirements have changed immensely. Making sure employee-related documents are established, administered and maintained appropriately can be one of the crucial elements in managing employee-related matters. One has only to look at the sophistication of the support systems to know this is a serious business function.

One of the most critical aspects in employee records is to know how they are used. In the days when employees were basically “interchangeable parts,” management didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about employee retention. Jobs and the structure of business were simpler. As business evolved, so did the employee-business relationship. Rules began to develop about how employees were paid. And the government needed information about pay for taxes on the employees and for organization accounting purposes.

Issues of fairness began to develop, unions began to evolve, larger organizations needed to keep better track of people. Then we got into the age of benefits, and things really got complex.

Keeping track of pay and service dates and making sure people were paid what you promised them are relatively easy compared with utilization and cost projection for benefits. Adding a new benefit requires a whole new set of records that can be modified when some component of the benefit plan gets changed, or when someone figures out a new way to manage the process that might save a buck or two.

What’s most important in record keeping usually depends upon your perspective at a given point in time.

From employees’ perspective, it’s about compensation for what they do and how that compares to others in the organization and at other organizations. This latter point is also of concern to management in a competitive climate for talent. The issue of fairness may be one of the most influential facets of record keeping.

Needing records for various purposes is complicated. It is about decision making, compliance and resolving concerns, either on the employee relations level or the legal level.

Couple this with issues of access, and you’d best have someone who knows the ins and outs of record keeping.

P3HR has put together a policy guide for our clients that covers most of the practices needed to stay on top of record keeping. The guide is six pages and addresses over 80 different typical employee records.

What’s next?

When people discuss employee records, they might think in terms of paper documents. But there are multiple electronic systems to choose from to support record keeping. The reasons for going digital are to simplify record keeping and  increase efficiency in collecting, analyzing and managing employee information for the many players who need pieces of it at various times.

One good aspect to note regarding keeping records today is that regulations are the same for electronic and hard-copy records, at least up to now.

Speedy digital systems can also have drawbacks. New security procedures may be needed. Information can be transferred easily and quickly, but it also can easily go to the wrong people, or pieces not intended for distribution can get mixed in and passed along.

A paper system can be under lock and key, requiring only control of physical access. With e-systems and connectivity, it is pretty difficult to put the genie back in the bottle, and individuals who would never consider breaking down a file room door will readily attack data files for various reasons.

Beyond malice, it’s important to consider how records will transition when systems are upgraded or vendors are changed. Frequently, regulations require maintaining files for five years or more.

And don’t forget that employers and others must communicate with employees using various e-systems. That means the organization has to stay current with the devices employees use. It may be complex or as simple as no longer using a landline phone, but the changes have to be managed.

Even with all the challenges of the new systems, they still have many great features. Most organizations will follow this path, as it is now the way of the world.

The key point to take away is that employee record management is no longer just like watering the grass when it is dry. It requires staff who know what they are doing to manage it and to stay on top of changes.

If you don’t do it right, there is a high probability of regret.

Ardon L. Schambers is president and principal of P3HR Consulting & Services.

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