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Consider the HR repercussions of a paperless workplace

BY: Anne-Marie Storey

There are many ways employers can be environmentally innovative in workplace practices, but they must do so cautiously with regard to HR practices.

1. Paychecks

Many employers encourage payment through direct deposit. However, studies show that an increasing number
of employees, many from minority groups with federal employment protections, do
not have bank accounts. Thus, there is the potential that mandatory direct
deposit programs may put an employer at risk of violating state or federal
anti-discrimination laws. In addition, Maine law provides that the employee has
to have the option to either make an initial withdrawal of the entire net pay
without additional cost or to choose another means of payment that involves no
additional cost. For those reasons, payroll cards have become another popular option in lieu of paper checks.

2. Personnel files

An employer can maintain a paperless personnel file as long as there are adequate safeguards to ensure the
maintenance, integrity and confidentiality of the information. Access to the
electronic records must be just as restricted as access to the paper file and
just as accessible to the employee. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission has said that an electronic record-keeping system could meet the
requirements of the laws it administers as long as the system “captures
and retains all information contained in the documents” to ensure they are
properly preserved. Employers must also be cognizant of state and federal
requirements for maintenance and production of certain records, such as pay
information. Even Form I-9s can be maintained electronically, according to the
Department of Homeland Security, as long as certain controls are in place.

3. Handbooks and policies

An employer may maintain and disseminate handbooks and policies in electronic form as long as employees have
access to that format. It is good practice to maintain a record of when the
policies were distributed and opened by each employee. For certain policies,
such as those barring unlawful harassment or any new policy that has a
significant impact on employee rights or responsibilities, it is good practice
to also hand it out in hard copy at least once to each employee. This will
depend on the nature of the policy and whether state or federal law has
specific requirements about dissemination.

4. Applications
Accepting resumes electronically without an application signed by the employee can present some
potential problems. This format can make it easier for an applicant to exclude
or disguise relevant information, such as gaps in employment, lack of
references or prior convictions. Likewise, allowing submission of an employment
application electronically without a signature by the applicant results in a
failure to have proof that the employee acknowledged that the information is
correct and accurate and that the applicant understands he/she may be
terminated or otherwise not hired for failure to disclose truthfully the
requested information. In addition, such practices may have other implications,
such as affirmative action requirements.

Remember, caution must be exercised with any changes to HR practices.

Anne-Marie L. Storey is a partner in the Bangor law firm of Rudman Winchell, where she practices
employment law. She will be presenting an expanded version of this topic at the
Northern New England Law Publishers HR Convention at the Samoset Resort in
Rockport in May. You can reach her at astorey@rudmanwinchell.com

 

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