We all do it. We hit “Print” and put an electronic document into a paper file. It’s tangible; we can touch it; we know it’s there. But why not hit “Save” and put that same document into an electronic file? The electronic file doesn’t take up space on a desk or in a cabinet. The electronic file doesn’t get stained by an errant pen or leaky coffee cup. Heck, the electronic file even organizes itself. So why do we hit “Print”? Because most of us (or our bosses) are more comfortable with paper. With tangibility.
Tangibility is expensive. Costs associated with tangibility include:
• hard dollars – for paper, ink, files, storage space or increased square footage required, etc.;
• administrative costs – incurred when sorting, cataloguing, and locating documents; and
• efficiency costs – whether between departments, colleagues working on a project, or in the overall functioning of the operation itself.
In the unfortunate event of litigation, these costs will increase exponentially, especially if your company has not been following (or does not have) a document retention and purge policy.
Intangibility, on the other hand, can greatly reduce these costs. If your company has 5, 50, or 500 employees, a central electronic document retention repository and policy saves time, money, and the headaches associated with sentences that begin with “I can’t find the ____.” And, unlike a paper document that can accidentally get round-filed and lost forever, it is difficult to completely destroy all evidence of electronic data.
So how can you take the company from tangible to intangible? First, develop an electronic categorization policy. In doing so, consider what documents and records are (1) regularly created and received by the company; (2) necessary to ongoing business operations; (3) required to be retained by the laws and regulations applicable to the company; and (4) are significant in some other respect (legal, historical, etc.). Then create groups of documents based on terms that are commonly understood by all employees. Often, these groups are then sorted by departments.
Second, develop an electronic retention and purge policy. This policy should address electronic document creation, maintenance of electronic data, archival of that data, and dates for destruction of data that is no longer necessary to business operations or required to be kept by law. If certain data should not be accessible to all users on the operating system, most systems will allow you to designate access parameters.
Finally, scan into the system each paper document that the company still needs or is required to keep and file it in the appropriate category. Scanning devices that also utilize optical character recognition (“OCR”) software are preferable, as they allow users to search the system for documents that contain certain words, characters or dates even if the document is in .pdf format.
We feel comforted when we are surrounded by our files. But we need to wean ourselves off the urge to hug them; electronic storage will do the trick. Just don’t hug your co-workers instead. That’s the subject of another article.
Gannon is an associate in the Employment Law and Civil Litigation Groups at LightGabler in Ventura County. She specializes in class action defense, wage and hour matters, and electronic discovery matters while representing employers in harassment, discrimination, and wrongful termination cases.