A few months ago, I was privileged to be the HR Lead for a large-scale transfer of services from one employer to new organisations. As we drew closer to the transfer date, I wrote to hundreds of staff members to confirm the terms and dates of their transfer to the incoming organisations.
Later that same week, I happened to receive a phone call from an angry resident of one of the addresses my letter had been delivered to. He was very upset that he had continued to be disturbed by the letters of the previous owner of the house, who happened to be the employee of the organisation I was supporting.
When asked how long he had been living at the address, he stated just over five years. And so for five years, he had been receiving posts for someone who no longer lives there, and with whom he had no contact. Of course, I profusely apologised for the error and promised to rectify our records. When I made contact with the employee in question, he stated he had forgotten to update his records and so, for well over half a decade, the employer had continued to hold the wrong address in their files.
While employees have a contractual obligation to update their employers if their personal records or circumstances change, employers also have a legal requirement of ensuring that the information they hold are up to date. However for employers, the story above highlights the potential legal ramifications of not keeping accurate employee details for staff. For example, had the new home owner not got in touch with me, the employee could have claimed he was not aware that his post was transferring to another company, and therefore we could have ended up in a legal battle about his transfer.
Looking at 2017 alone, there have been at least three major horrifying events that have shaken our capital, such as The Manchester Terrorist Attack at an Ariana Grande concert on 22nd May, The London Bridge Attack on 3rd June, and the Grenfell Tower Fire of 14th June.
According to the BBC, not everyone that has been affected by the most recent tragedy has been identified yet. In fact, a colleague told me about a survivor of the fire who lost everything she owned and therefore could not contact her employer within the first ten days. Perhaps they didn’t even realise she had been a victim of the Grenfell Tower incident as she may not have updated her records.
Or maybe they did have the correct address and had been trying to contact her via devices that had been consumed by the fire. It’s even possible that a meeting had been arranged to discuss her continuing employment in the event that they had a previous address, couldn’t link her to the event and therefore concluded she had gone AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave). After all, we HR people like to follow procedure!
In light of the above, I believe employers owe it to themselves and their employees to ensure their recording system and process is robust. They also need to recognise that good record keeping is not only a legal activity but also what caring employers who are serious about the welfare of their employees do.
I sincerely hope that survivors of the fire, who are employed, were contacted by either their line managers or a representative from their employing organisations. This act can improve retention and employee satisfaction. Knowing that your employer cares about you and that you are just not a headcount in their establishment will go a long way in improving the employment relationship.
So what can employers do to ensure that their employees’ records are up to date?
- Ensure that the pre-employment checks are robustly carried out and that a proof of address is provided during the recruitment process
- Invest in a functional HR Information System with a self-service facility where possible. This is so that employees can have individual access to update their own personnel records as and when necessary
- Carry out quarterly or bi-annual address audits on random employees with over five years’ continuous service
- Send quarterly or bi-annual reminders to staff to update their personal records and require them to confirm that information held is the most current
- Produce yearly reports on the locality/post codes of staff in case of local or national emergencies. It will make it easier to alert or gain intelligence on why some staff may be missing from work
Additionally, in the event that an employee hasn’t turned up for work, it’s important to ensure that they are safe and that there’s not been any serious incident involving them before invoking HR processes.
In my view, employers who make maintaining their employees’ records priority are not only commendable – and should be where people want to work- but they are also caring ones that staff can feel committed to in the long run.