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We’re more than halfway through the year – is doing an employee file audit on your list of to-do’s this calendar year? There’s no time like the present to get this mundane, but important, HR foundational measure taken care of so you can move on to the meatier, FUN HR stuff!

Create a plan

Before you get started – figure out what needs to be done. If you have paper files – your plan should most definitely be to go to some form of electronic filing system. There are ways to do it easily and cost effectively without purchasing a huge HRIS system. For any filing system, also think about whether your security, access and retention processes are working and if any changes should be made. Also – figure out when you’d like to be finished, your deadline. Perhaps it will be the end of the current calendar year?

Make a list & a timeline

This one’s pretty simple – have a current list of employees to work from to make sure all files are present and accounted for. Use an electronic checklist, in Excel or similar, and add notes/highlights, tracking of documentation, and edits as you go along to identify and correct issues as they’re found, and delete or add terminated or new employees. Having a current list also helps you set a targeted timeline to meet your deadline. For example, if you started your audit the 3rd week of July, and your deadline is December 31st, and you have 150 employee files to audit, that gives you 25 weeks to audit, which equals approximately 6 files/week. Make interim deadlines; when will you have 25 files done, then 50…and so on? Be generous with your timing – other emergencies will come up and it will take some time to get started yet.

Make a documentation checklist

Next, determine where each piece of information for each employee is kept and what information you need to have. Will something be kept in the personnel file, medical/confidential file, or payroll/benefits file? And don’t forget to keep I-9 forms separate from all three of those! SHRM has a great checklist template. The checklist will be your tool as you go through each file to ensure each item is in the right place and is present. Each organization may have different needs – some may require school transcripts, copies of varies certifications, or proof of required training. Determine which items on the checklist are “must-haves” (you’ll ask employees who are missing those items to furnish or complete them) and which do not need to be retroactively created.

Do training

Even if you’re a file auditing extraordinaire – you’ve done file audits at multiple organizations and you’ve “seen it all” – training is still a good idea, especially if multiple individuals are auditing. Set aside time to go through 3-5 random files– do this as a group with all auditors, or individually and see what you come across. This training process may prompt you to tweak your documentation checklist, make updates to your timeline and is good practice for all auditors to work together and discuss what items are necessary and which are cursory. Training needs to only last an hour or two – max.

Now GO!

After training, get any final approvals necessary for your audit process, documentation checklist, and any changes to the filing system and then…GO. Don’t stall at this stage of the game!! Try to schedule yourself for at least an hour within the first week after training to get an initial 3-5 files audited and processed on your own. However – if you’re planning on moving to a different filing system, such as moving from paper to electronic, audit when you’re ready to scan and do them both at the same time so that you don’t have to go through the documents more than once. If someone else is scanning for you – then no need to wait, audit away!

If you’re looking for additional help on comprehensive file audit strategies and best practices, SHRM members have access to a great Managing Personnel Records Toolkit.

Catherine Schmidt
Catherine Schmidt
Catherine Schmidt, PHR, SHRM-CP, is Purple Ink’s Consulting Manager and has nearly a decade of experience managing various HR functions including recruiting, creating training programs, compliance, and performance development initiatives. She has worked in a variety of industries such as professional services, manufacturing, and non-profit settings. You can follow Catherine on Twitter @CatherineS_HR.

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