The human resources department is the one with ownership over record keeping duties and the retention or disposal of employment-related documents. This maintenance of personnel files ensures your agency has effective procedures in place for creating and managing required records. But what happens when your records management strategies are up for review in an unexpected audit? You’ll want to be prepared in this situation, which means having a clear view into the handling and storing of files, as well as easy access to the records being evaluated.
What is a records audit?
A records audit formally reviews how your agency controls who recovers, changes, or owns a particular record. During this process, the auditor examines your files in light of both legal and practical terms, and delivers a report detailing record retention or possible destruction.
3 reasons why records audits are conducted
Even if you’ve established a viable records management system, you still need a way to track the strengths and weaknesses of your record keeping. By utilizing records management audits, you can guarantee compliance, confirm overall consistency, and fine-tune your files thanks to a deeper understanding of which documents aren’t needed any longer.
While the goal of a records audit varies, they’re often focused on making sure your organization follows the procedures for records management as defined by your operational controls. In other words, conducting an audit ensures your office complies with all legal and regulatory requirements. Not only do federal agencies have their own record keeping specifications, there are state and local statutes to consider, too. With repeat audits, your office can stay up-to-date on a range of regulations, and operate more freely as a result.
Confirm consistency of records management
Records management is centered around preserving an accurate archive of the happenings and transactions within your organization. At its core, records management is accountable for the systematic control over the creation, maintenance, use, and disposal of agency records — and consistency is key when it comes to keeping each of these responsibilities in check. Taking part in periodic records audits supports consistency in how records are initially created, how they’re stored, how they’re used, and eventually, how they’re discarded.
Understand which records are no longer needed
Proper management of agency records is essential for maintaining control of confidential employee data and other pertinent (but private) information. While the preservation of records can extend for years after an employee has left your office, there does come a point when certain files are no longer needed. A records audit can reveal which documents are ready for disposal, and which paperwork still requires retention. The timely and steady destruction of inactive files keeps your agency organized, streamlined, and performing at its fullest potential.
How records audits are conducted in 4 steps (and our tips for being prepared)
It’s been said there’s always room for improvement, and records management doesn’t seem to be the exception to this rule. While a records management system can be strengthened through data backups and a shift toward digitizing your files, having a professional audit records can build on these aforementioned assets and boost your records management even further.
1. The auditor requests a list of records to review
Before beginning a records audit, you will need to decide what and how much you want to assess; an audit can either include all of your record management procedures, or just a small sampling. Once you have clarity around the files to focus on, the auditor will request a list of your agency’s records to review, including both physical and digital documents.
This list provides a sense of the volume and type of records your organization manages, and helps dictate the direction of the audit as well as the results you receive. Keep in mind, if the audit is abrupt, digitized files will make light work of creating your list and proceeding with the audit process (versus sorting through piles of paperwork to find what you need).
2. The auditor reviews your records in detail
With your approved list in tow, the auditor can then review your records in-depth and in detail. In addition to looking at the way your organization creates its records (to evaluate reliability), they’ll also examine how you decide what’s worth keeping. From there, the auditor is likely to consider your records’ ages — that is, if your agency archives or destroys its documents.
If you store your records, the auditor will look into your method for storage, whether that’s in a database, warehouse, or off-site facility. If you destroy your records, the auditor will instead analyze your procedures for destroying them, including how security is enforced during the destruction process. To prepare for this line of questioning, make sure you know how record storage is handled, and/or the safety measures employed when documents are disposed of.
3. The auditor produces an audit report
After the necessary details and insights have been collected, the auditor will produce an audit report to determine the relative importance of your records. For example, this report will highlight which files need to be retained and for how long, and thus affirm what can be destroyed. Using this report, your agency can implement record revisions, retention, or disposal as needed, and clear up some much needed space within your database or storage facility.
If elimination is in order for some of your records, the audit report will outline destruction procedures to guarantee the confidentiality of employee information at all times.
4. The auditor may recommend additional audits
Most organizations enjoy the best outcomes when they agree to be audited on a regular basis. The auditor may recommend additional audits to keep tabs on whether the correct processes are being followed, and to diagnose where improvements can be made for increased efficiency.
If the auditor doesn’t mention anything about your next audit, you can take the lead and address a follow up appointment for yourself. This way, you can better ensure your agency is routinely reviewed and up to par with all of its policies, procedures, and compliance.
How digitizing files can improve the record keeping process
Poor records management can lead to a messy, ineffective workplace, and often contributes to the loss of critical information. Fortunately, digitizing files has a positive impact on the record keeping process, by saving valuable space, leveraging cloud-level security, automating compliance with retention schedules, making files readily accessible, and more.
Depending on the size of your organization, paper documents may occupy several rooms worth of storage space. On top of being inconvenient and inefficient, this approach to storage can also be quite costly in the long run. With digitized files, your agency can save a tremendous amount of physical storage, and improve the record keeping process as a whole. That’s because digital documents open up for greater storage capacity, provide convenience and security when dealing with confidential files, and can be maintained at a fair and affordable price.
Leverage cloud-level security
Cloud-level security refers to the technologies and services that protect cloud data (i.e. digital files) from potential threats. With cloud-level controls, you can trust that your private documents are well cared for, and are not at risk of data breaches, data leaks, or in jeopardy of targeted attacks. By leveraging cloud-level security via digitization, your agency can rest easy knowing its most important items are being kept safe — meaning they won’t fall into the wrong hands or fall prey to wandering eyes who may try to misuse this information.
Automate compliance with records retention schedules
Records retention schedules support the understanding and application of an identified (and approved) retention period for your personnel records or similar documentation. Simply put, these schedules dictate when you can release or destroy files that are no longer needed. When you invest in digitizing your files, you have the ability to automate compliance with these schedules, so all of the backend work and upkeep is done for you. These automations free up significant hours in the day to then be used on other value-added endeavors.
Going digital disaster-proofs your records
The surest way to know your paper documents won’t be compromised in a flood or fire is to have off-site duplicates of every file. The issue is that this doubles the amount of storage room needed, making it an impractical option for most organizations. With digital files, however, you can manage records from secure cloud storage, and backup your data using a fraction of the time and space involved with copying paper records. Plus, backing up files helps you prepare for the worst by providing a strategy to restore your systems should a disaster strike.
More accessible and efficient
When you prioritize digitization, you can effortlessly search large volumes of files. Instead of wasting time sorting and sifting through paperwork, or spending money to store everything off-site, you can locate the exact file you need with just a few clicks. Moreover, digital documents can be accessed from anywhere, which is incredibly beneficial for remote teams. Approved accounts can utilize digital information with ease, which means productivity is subject to increase, and at the same time, inaccuracies in record keeping are reduced.
Improve records management with Image API
If your organization is battling stacks of paperwork that are taking up too much space and growing faster than they can be filed, it’s safe to say you’re in need of a new method for records management. The best way to enhance your record keeping is with digitization, which makes the sharing and circulating of information much easier and more streamlined. Digital files not only maximize your time, they minimize the effort needed to manage your documents, as well.
Image API is a leader in innovative and intuitive records management, and is on a mission to simplify your complex paper-based processes through digital solutions. By harnessing the power of intelligent digitization, cloud content management, and digital process automation, Image API can help your agency experience the speed of digital and operate at its fullest capacity. By teaming up with Image API, you’ll be on the fast track toward measurable results and incredible value your whole team will appreciate.
Records audit FAQs
What is a detailed audit?
A detailed audit formally reviews how your agency controls who recovers, changes, or owns a record. During the audit process, the auditor will examine your files in light of both legal and practical terms, and deliver a report detailing record retention or possible destruction.
What personnel records should be kept permanently?
It’s important to note that while many personnel records are eventually discarded, there are some files that need to be kept permanently. These documents include things like EEO-1 reports, USERRA leave records, health and safety bulletins, and training manuals.
How long should you keep records?
The recommended time for keeping personnel records varies by file type, but a few examples include: employee contracts are kept for 6 years; attendance records, work-related expenses, and workers compensation are kept for 7 years; employee insurance records are kept for 11 years; accident reports, injury claims, and any workplace settlements are kept for 30 years.