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Electronic Signatures in Global Human Resources

ElectronicSignaturePart 1 – A cautionary tale for obtaining electronic signed consent from applicants

Human Resources has historically faced the challenges posed by having to manage a multitude of hard-copy HR documents containing employee signatures and internal sign-offs – consider job applications, offer letters, I9 verifications, background check notice and consent forms, employment agreements as well as restrictive covenants and non-disclosure agreements to name a few. Even just fifteen years ago the vast majority of the background screening industry relied on faxed based consumer authorization forms from clients prior to initiating a background check on U.S. candidates.

Today, with advances in technology, domestic and global organizations look to automate as much of the manual paperwork generated and maintained by HR, which can be challenging to say the least especially when multi and transnational companies are involved. More and more organizations small medium and large have or are in the process of transitioning to more electronic recordkeeping as well as computer generated HR documents that are maintained on intranet servers or in the cloud – much of that bearing manual employee signatures – is in decline. Manual documentation is becoming redundant as HR embraces various types of HRIS, ATS and On-Demand Background Screening systems as well as hundreds of other paperless HR solutions. Not to mention of course, the drive to “going green” or a “paperless office” is considered much more environmentally friendly.

All of this of course means, many new-hires today have less and less need for pen to paper during the recruitment, selection, and possible onboarding process and with even less “wet signatures” to manual documentation. It’s much simpler to have an applicant tic a box or scribble their name on a tablet within an online application with electronic forms and to endorse agreements via email.

A Cautionary TaleAdvances in high-technology occur at lightning fast speed but laws and regulations governing technology develop at what seems like a snail’s pace. This is highlighted by the on-going legal issues related to social media sites like Facebook, Google, and the online taxi service Uber and Lyft. These advances have quickly outdated many slowly developing legal doctrines around the globe. As globalization, conservation and technology minimize HR documentation to include wet signatures from the human resource process point of view, well-established philosophy of law around the globe remain firmly embedded in “old-school” document execution and authentication procedures – wet-signatures, originals, notarizations, counter signatory witnesses and in some cases stamps and seals.

The challenge is that in many countries around the globe, legal doctrines preceding the Internet remain firmly embedded when deciding questions pertaining to admissibility and enforceability of electronic signatures, acknowledgements, assents, and verifications. Most legal issues around document enforceability in the “paperless office” involve signed paperwork—duly distributed electronic business records that do not bear any signatures can always simply be printed out.

Consider the following fictitious scenario, in any number of countries, a Human Resource professional sacks two employees for violating the company’s code of conduct. Both employees deny ever having read or even seen the code, and their disputes end up in a labor tribunal or court proceeding. Employee #1, had allegedly signed a hard-copy of the code of conduct acknowledgement in wet ink agreeing to abide by the code, which the employer duly filed away in the employees personnel file. Employee #2, who was hired later on, allegedly must have at some point clicked “I agree” to an electronic code of conduct acknowledgement – the company’s IT department vehemently insists that all employees who were on boarded well before employee #2’s hire date have had to click past a code of conduct acknowledgement page to sign onto the company intranet system. A legal opinion from in country general counsel isn’t needed to understand why this employer is going to have a far weaker case with employee #2 to his code of conduct acknowledgement as compared to employee #1.

Stay tuned to Part II to Electronic Signatures in Global Human Resources, as we discuss some of the major pieces of national and international legislation on this topic around the globe, the differences between Formal “Advanced” Employee Electronic Signatures versus Electronic Assents, Acknowledgements and HR records and finally possible solutions for minimizing the risks associated with electronic consent technology.

Copyright © 2015 Aletheia Consulting Group

Aletheia Consulting Group provides expert cost-effective global advisory solutions for multinational organization human resource, compliance, privacy, and security risk management resource needs. Our primary focus is on companies that have overseas operations that seek to navigate the sometimes challenging sea of international risk management involving the people, processes, technology and organization. If you’d like to learn more about our Services for Multinational Employers please feel free to contact us at Terry.Corley@me.com.

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