What do you do with old personnel records?

Don't let your secrets get away through the trash.
Don’t let your secrets get away through the trash.

I recommend to many clients that they periodically purge their personnel files. You don’t really need that “excuse for being late” from 20 years ago. You also don’t need to keep most of the records from an employee that you terminated 10 years ago. Of course there are some exceptions, such as chemical exposure records or if you are involved in a lawsuit with the employee, but generally you are safe getting rid of old paperwork. However, you have to use a bit of common sense when doing so.

Don’t just throw it out

Did you know that there are people who “dumpster dive” specifically looking for information that companies have dumped in the trash. Industrial spies, ex-employees, reporters and other snoops go through the trash of companies looking for all sorts of records. Sometimes they find information that is sensitive and sometimes they find information that is very personal. Loss of confidential information or personal information on employees, such as social security numbers, can be costly, as a pharmacy found out.

HIPAA violations

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (HHS) recently announced they had reached a settlement with a small pharmacy for its improper handling of private health information (PHI.) Someone dumpster diving at the pharmacy found records of patients that revealed all sorts of PHI on 1600 people. The “diver” told a local news station who in turn alerted the HHS. After an investigation the HHS settled with the pharmacy for $125,000.

Shred don’t toss

The pharmacy was accused of violating the HIPAA Privacy Rules by failing to reasonably safeguard PHI; failing to implement written policies and procedures; and failing to train employees on policies and procedures. In addition to paying the settlement they also had to institute policies and procedures and conduct training. The end result added more to the cost of the wrong doing.
Although this pharmacy was wrong in not having a HIPAA policy in place they would have saved themselves a great deal of grief, bad press, oversight and money if they had shredded the paperwork.
I am sure they thought it was more convenient to just toss it into the trash and cheaper too. I am sure they never suspected they would have anyone going through their trash. You may think the same thing. You may want to rethink!
Photo by renjith krishnan

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