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Documentation Strategies for HR Professionals

This particular responsibility, perhaps more than any other responsibility addressed in this chapter, takes a high -level overview of this portion of our function. By this, we mean that the records that must be maintained will vary —by law, by industry, by state, by jurisdiction —and by a dozen other factors.

Within an organization, maintaining documentation is dreaded by many, postponed by most, enjoyed by few, and viewed suspiciously by others. HR’s role in establishing and maintaining legal and effective documentation practices is particularly pivotal.

With respect to WPE-related record keeping, HR is responsible for maintaining much of the information and documentation required to ensure compliance with federal, state, and local laws. A few examples of some of these record-keeping requirements stemming from this functional area include, but are in no way limited to, applicant flow data, veteran status, AAP-related data, and I-9 reporting.

A primary takeaway for this responsibility is that HR professionals must take great care in ensuring that they learn, know, and follow the unique retention requirements to which they are subject. This is not a responsibility that can be performed intuitively, nor is it one that can be adequately addressed within a book of this scope.

Also, keep in mind that maintaining documentation means more than just “being organized.” In a sense, this responsibility can be a “Catch-22” for HR professionals. By definition, the actions associated with maintaining documentation are transactional. They are not strategic in nature. They are also driven, in large part, by compliance requirements. But if we don’t perform this portion of our job well, it is unlikely that we will be given the opportunity to perform functions that are more strategic in nature. Why? One reason is fairly self-evident: if we cannot demonstrate the ability to successfully execute tasks of a more mundane and administrative nature, it is unlikely that we will be entrusted with initiatives that are more strategic or visible. The second reason can become painfully obvious: documentation, when mishandled, can lead to very real and tangible costs (human, as well as monetary) to the organization. These costs can, and often do, have a strategic impact.

Some documentation basics that HR professionals need to think about include these:

  • Know what needs to be documented: This includes federal, state, and local requirements—as well as documentation mandated by collective bargaining agreements, employment contracts, and performance management programs.
  • Know how to document: Many forms must be completed in accordance with specific, detailed, and mandatory guidelines. Those specific requirements can also impact the ways in which documents are maintained, stored, retrieved, and distributed.
  • Know what not to document: Documentation takes two main forms—documentation that pertains to collecting and maintaining legally mandated record keeping, and documentation that pertains to performance management (in the broadest sense of that term). For purposes of this discussion, our focus will remain on the first type of documentation.

Here are some hands-on ideas to consider:

  • Set up streamlined processes and procedures for handling routine and repetitive documentation requirements.
  • Utilize technological tools, as appropriate and helpful.
  • Maintain ongoing awareness of evolving laws and regulations to ensure they maintain continual compliance with potentially changing regulations.
  • Incorporate fail-safe mechanisms into those processes. Even in the best-designed systems, it’s inevitable that things will go wrong. Make sure there is a way to identify and resolve insufficient or noncompliant documentation.
  • Look for ways to use existing documentation more strategically. Ascertain how you can turn data into information and how you can use that information as you work to earn, or maintain, a seat at the table.
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