Without the right technology, tracking custodian status changes—such as departures, departmental transfers, or extended leaves of absence—is one of the more difficult jobs for in-house legal professionals involved in legal holds and preserving electronically store information (ESI).
Employee movements are mostly unavoidable for any large company, given that the annual employee separation rate is around 15%. A company with about 5,000 employees might see an average of 750 employee departures (and presumably, new hires) each year, given the 15% rate. But over the last month, as COVID-19 has ravaged the U.S. economy leading to a mind-boggling 22 million layoffs, tracking those movements is likely to become exponentially more difficult for businesses in certain sectors.
Employee departures are generally common and predictable for legal teams, but this is a different situation entirely. Common approaches for identifying such changes tend to be highly manual.
“In many organizations, the responsibility falls on a member of the legal staff, typically a paralegal, to periodically contact the HR team and request updated information on current custodians,” says Joe Mulenex, a seasoned e-discovery professional and Solutions Consultant for Exterro. “The process of cross-referencing one large list of employees against another list of active custodians is fraught with opportunity for oversight.”
Given the volumes of unemployed workers that some industries are facing (such as services, retail, and healthcare jobs), and the possibility that some in-house legal teams have reduced staff themselves, it is of paramount importance to automate as many of these manual processes as possible. If it’s possible to integrate the legal hold and HR systems to ensure automatic cross-referencing between employee status changes and active custodian rosters, all the better.
“Organizations that rely on disparate spreadsheets and other static forms of documentation to track legal holds and custodians have a difficult time reacting to employee status changes because paralegals and other litigation support professionals don't necessarily know where to look to confirm whether action needs to be taken," adds Mulenex.
It’s an unfortunate reality that the burden of regulations still exist for businesses already under immense pressure, but it’s a reality we must face until we return to some semblance of normalcy.
For more on this topic, read Mike Hamilton's blog, or read our whitepaper for best practices on handling employee movement.