Employers must destroy records

By Janet Braswell

6/1/2005 – Papers with workers’ personal data must be shredded or burned

Tossing records that contain employee telephone numbers or other personal information into the trash could land employers in trouble to the tune of $2,500 in fines.

A provision of the 2003 Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act requires employers to shred or burn paper employee records or wipe the information off computer disks, starting today.

The requirement is intended to protect employees from identity theft.

“That’s a good idea, but I think most of the identity theft happens on the Internet,” said social worker Chezra Delaine of Hattiesburg.

Most large employers already shred sensitive documents, including employee records.

Wesley Medical Center contracts with an outside company to shred paperwork dealing with about 1,000 employees and with many more patients, said Terry Springer, human resources director.

“Particularly in the health care field, privacy and confidentiality are something we take very seriously,” she said.

The law requires shredding or burning paper documents and “smashing or wiping” computer disks that contain employee information.

Employers could be forced to pay damages to employees and/or be fined up to $2,500 by the federal government for violating the provision.

The requirement means more work and increased costs for small employers who don’t have shredders, said Allen Morris, who runs Wireless Solutions in Petal.

“I think it’s going to require a lot of extra effort and expense on the part of employers,” he said. “Employee records are essential and they have a lot of information. It’s going to be kind of costly.”

With only six employees, Morris isn’t sure he has enough documents to justify buying a shredder.

A heavy-duty personal shredder, designed to be used 50 to 100 times daily, costs less than $200 while a light-duty office shredder to deal with 1,000 to 4,000 sheets of paper per day runs more than $400. Heavy-duty office shredders can top $1,500 in price.

“I guess for me with my small stores, I’ll just sit there and tear them up,” he said.

The city of Hattiesburg recently paid about $1,600 to replace a shredder bought in the 1980s, city clerk Eddie Myers said.

“Anything we’re not required to keep, we shred,” he said. “It recently broke and we had to replace it. It’s not like the little baskets you sit by your desk. Shredding sensitive information is not new to us. ”

The city quit putting Social Security numbers on employee paycheck stubs several years ago to protect workers’ identity, said Gena Hopkins, human resources director.

“I don’t want my information out there,” she said. “It’s sad.”

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