You already know the fundamental information you should be storing in your employee records. But beyond the essentials, there’s a lot of other information that you may or may not want to keep in your HR system.
Sometimes, the extra data you need to store is specific to your company – for example, if you need to track company equipment. Sometimes, it’s specific to your area of business – you might have industry regulations to follow, meaning extra information to track.
But sometimes, you can end up gathering irrelevant HR data. And if you’re not careful, it can even be damaging.
What is irrelevant HR data?
While this article is not meant as a list of what not to keep in an employee file, I think I should at least explain what I mean by ‘irrelevant HR data’.
Let’s take a hobby or interest as an example. You might decide that it’s a good idea to add a list of each employee’s top 10 hobbies and interests to their employee record – because, for example, it helps you understand your workforce better, thus allowing you to improve your culture. But while your intentions are noble, the data is irrelevant to the employee’s file. It has no actual relevance to their employment with your company, and should therefore not be connected to their HR record.
Now, I’m not necessarily saying that you should never gather or store this information about employees. But you should certainly think twice about tying certain employee data directly to your HR information system. And I’ve spoken to some law experts to find out why.
Less is more – store as little personal information as possible
Tom Simeone, an attorney at Simeone & Miller LLP, has a history in employment law. And he explains that storing irrelevant HR data on an employee’s file could become a matter of litigation and liability.
“As a rule of thumb, employers may want to keep as little information about an employee’s personal life as possible” he explains. “The reason is that if the employee ever claims discrimination because they were terminated, not promoted, or paid less due to an improper reason, such as age, sex, race, national origin, etc., the employer’s file on the employee becomes relevant.”
Tom explains that if you know, for example, that an employee enjoys certain hobbies, or belongs to certain groups, and if you’re keeping a formal record of this information in your HR system, attached to the employee’s record, then the question could arise as to whether or not you used that information to influence your decision, as opposed to their job performance. Therefore, the less information you hold about an employee’s personal life, the stronger you will be able to prove that decisions you make are based strictly on employee performance.
Remove information like hobbies and interests, or risk non-compliance with GDPR
Storing irrelevant HR data within employee records could cause a compliance issue with The General Data Protection Regulation, which clamps down hard on how you can gather and use personal information without consent.
“Legislation like the GDPR will eventually make it illegal to gather and process such data” explains Jesse Harrison, of the Employee Justice Legal Team. “Although using this data can help analytics and improve the growth of the company, it is understandable why many people want it to remain private.”
GDPR requires explicit consent before you can use personal information. And while certain HR data is protected from this, because you have a legal obligation to process it, irrelevant HR data could actually ‘infect’ the rest of the information you store, by causing your entire HR information system to be non-compliant.
Jesse advises clearing employee records of any irrelevant data like hobbies and interests, for the sake of GDPR. And in my opinion, if you really must collect this sort of information, then you should keep it separate from your core HR system, and make sure you gain appropriate, explicit consent.
Be careful about tying confidential information with publicly accessible data
If you operate in certain countries, such as the United States, then you may have a legal obligation to store certain records that the general public may request access to. And according to attorney Lauren Ross, who specialises in Immigration, these Public Access Files should remain detached from the core employee record.
“Employers who sponsor foreign nationals for H-1B, H-1B1 or E-3 visas are required to maintain a set of documents called a ‘Public Access File’ or PAF.” She explains. “The Department of Labor and the general public are entitled to review the PAF documents upon request. When employers keep PAF documents in an employee’s personnel file, the employer runs the risk of compromising an employee’s privacy and/or subjecting the company to unnecessary liability when complying with government or public requests for inspection.”
While this is not necessarily an example of ‘irrelevant HR data’, it is certainly an example of data that isn’t relevant for the employee’s private personnel file. And storing it incorrectly could cause big damage.
Are you concerned about the data your HR system collects?
As an employer, it is your responsibility to gather, store and process employee information responsibly, and within the letter of the law.
If you’re worried about the data you are storing in employee records, then ask yourself if it is strictly necessary and related to their employment. If you’re unsure, an employment law solicitor will be able to tell you if what you’re doing could be putting you at legal risk.
But regardless, be careful about how much information you attach to employee records. If you want to collect irrelevant data, make sure you have the appropriate consent, and as a precaution, use a separate system that does not put you at risk of making your entire HR system a liability.