As an HR professional, it is ingrained into us that documentation is crucial for a well-run team, department and business. But if HR isn’t your thing or it’s just one of the myriad of hats that you have to wear this may not be your thought.
The purpose of this blog is to give you the information you will need to decide this for yourself.
We will provide you with the ‘need to know’ about HR documentation, from the basics of what needs to be documented to the best practices for creating and maintaining accurate records.
So let’s get started.
Defining What HR Documentation Actually Is
What are HR documents?
They are the documents that are used from first contact to an employee’s leaving date that help the business and the individual communicate information relating to their relationship. The information shared may also need to be recorded and stored, but more on that later
It may help add a bit of clarity to give a few examples of what would constitute HR documentation:
From the outset, you should use job descriptions, interview templates, new starter forms and a statement of particulars of employment (which people commonly, but incorrectly refer to as the contract.)
During employment, this could be HR-related policies and procedures, performance reviews, recording of absences and payroll.
In the end, you may have an exit interview template. Within each of these examples there may be more detailed supporting documents or a sub-set of related documents, so don’t be fooled into thinking this list is exclusive.
Now we have an idea of what it is, we need to move on to why it is important.
The Importance Of HR Documentation
Many of you reading this will already recognise the importance of at least some of the previously listed documentation, but let’s see if we can change this to all of you thinking it’s all important!
The first reason is that HR documents provide a consistent structure that ensures operations are efficient, effective, and compliant.
Furthermore, they serve as an official record of important HR conversations and decisions. They also provide the structure to standardise critical HR processes so organisations can be confident that employees are treated fairly and consistently.
Also, accurate HR records and documentation reinforce that the right processes are in place and adhered to in order to promote an ethical workplace culture. Whilst this might sound quite important to some of you, others are perhaps still thinking it’s just ‘nice to have’. Is it though?
Some, but not all HR documentation is a legal requirement to have, by that we mean, it is stated in Law that you must have something documented or formally recorded.
An example is the Statement of Particulars of Employment. Since April 2020 it has been a legal requirement to provide employees and workers with a document stating the main conditions of employment on or before their first day of employment. The penalty for failing to do this could be up to 4 weeks’ pay capped at £2,284.
The reason for specifically using the phrase ‘legal requirement’ is because a lot of other documentation may not be required by law, but having it can help you avoid legal proceedings and if you do get there, avoid costly losses.
Of course, having HR documentation wouldn’t necessarily avoid legal proceedings – it can still happen as it isn’t as simple as playing the Monopoly get-out-of-jail-free card, but in some cases, it could literally be the difference between staying in business or not.
To avoid getting into any legal proceedings at all, use documentation to make it crystal clear what is expected from both you and your employee. This will come in the form of job descriptions, policies, procedures and performance reviews for example.
A relatively safe bet is that when two parties sign a contract, as long as both parties get what they signed up for and know what to do if either party isn’t happy anymore, you are on pretty steady ground.
Once you are in legal proceedings, documentation serves as evidence that what you have done is reasonable and correct. Much like a school maths exam, you can’t just provide an answer, you must show how you got to the answer. When it comes to dealing with such things as disciplinaries and grievances, the ACAS Code of Practice sets a minimum standard of fair behaviour you must follow when ‘getting to your answer’.
If you don’t follow this and a dispute makes it to an Employment Tribunal, this could increase the risk of your approach being deemed unreasonable and could affect compensation awards (potential to increase by up to 25%), penalties and even the outcome.
Evidence is key, so having the right documentation in place can help you prove you followed a fair process. It also serves as primary and undisputed evidence of the facts.
If that hasn’t done it for you then let’s use a metaphor where we compare people to sofas!
Imagine if you bought a new sofa as a three seater and it came as a two-seater (issue with the job description) you would be pretty miffed!
Now imagine you couldn’t find the information or contact details on how to sort out the problem (policies and procedures)
Maybe the sofa did come as you expected, it looks great and is really comfy just as you expected; everything wonderful (probationary review)
Every day you walk into the room, see the sofa, and give it a scan to make sure you don’t sit on anything (or anyone) before taking a seat. Once you have sat down you may reposition yourself or maybe grab a cushion to ensure you are getting maximum comfort (performance reviews)
But unexpected bad news strikes (sorry!) One day you walk in and unexpectedly see a mark where someone has spilt something on it. Not only that but there’s a spring you can feel through the cushion. You try to sort out these problems – why is the spring faulty? Why has the stain resistant spray not worked? You can’t accept this as the sofa is no longer serving its purpose – you want it fixing or a replacement (Disciplinary Policy)
Finally, you’ve had enough. You make a formal complaint and the shop you bought it from collects the old sofa (dismissal meeting)
And, replaces it with a brand new one (back to recruitment again)
What to Include in Your HR Documentation
When it comes to HR documentation and records, you legally need to record:
· Statement of written particulars and a wider written statement
· Discipline and grievance policies
· Data protection policy
· Health and Safety policy (more than 5 employees)
· Working hours
Other useful documents we recommend include:
· Job descriptions
· Equal opportunities policy
· Diversity and inclusion policy
· General rules on conduct and dress code
· Anti-harassment and bullying policy
· Anti-corruption and bribery policy
· Performance review
How to Store and Retain Your HR Documentation
So next, what to do regarding access, storage, retention and destruction of HR documentation.
Items that don’t contain personal data and are used to communicate a consistent, fair and ethical approach to business could be accessible to everyone within the business. The best examples of these would be policies, statements and notices.
Data which is personal should only be accessed by approved people and can be requested by the individual via a ‘Subject Access Request’
An organised HR filing system allows easy access to important personnel data, minimising the time spent on document retrieval and simplifying the process of reporting, record keeping, and event tracking. The best system begins with appropriate storage solutions that allow documents to be kept securely while also being easily accessible. The most helpful solutions are those that allow people to quickly find necessary documents when needed.
Whether digitally or in a physical filing cabinet it needs to be compliant with data protection law.
You cannot keep all information indefinitely, doing so would in fact be against the law. For some types of data, there are minimum statutory retention periods such as Coronavirus furlough records which must be kept for 6 years, salary data for 6 years and working time records for 2 years.
For those types of data without statutory retention periods, there may be recommendations from bodies such as the CIPD, who recommend that application forms and interview notes are retained for 6 months and personnel files and training records for 6 years post employment.
In some cases, records can be retained beyond the default retention periods and you should always satisfy yourself in relation to your own practices and the rules. For further information please refer to:
When you can’t keep records anymore you must destroy them safely, securely and effectively.
Updating Your HR Documentation Over Time
It is essential to update HR documents over time, as policies and regulations often change.
Regular reviews of HR documents are necessary to ensure compliance with the latest rules and regulations, as well as the industry in which the business operates.
Updating documents such as job descriptions, training materials and disciplinary processes can keep companies up-to-date on their responsibilities and activities related to HR.
Making sure that these documents remain current will not only provide important protections for employees but also reflects the organisation’s commitment to its staff and shows that employee rights are respected, and kept monitored. So although the temptation may be just to change them as and when you might need to, regularly put some time aside to go through your documents to make sure they are relevant and legal.
Creating and maintaining thorough HR documentation may seem like a daunting task, but it’s critical for the success of your business.
By taking the time to define what types of documents you need, understanding why they’re important, and knowing what information to include, you can create a system that works for your company.
We are here to make your HR processes simpler for your business.