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Originally posted by United Benefit Advisors (UBA)

Electronic Disclosure of HR Documents

As technology improves, and a generation of younger professionals starts populating the workforce, the desire to go “paperless” for everything in business becomes a driving force.  We can see it now in terms of the number of emails, blogs, websites, and other forms of electronic communications that have replaced more traditional forms of paper communications.

Human Resources departments are equally affected by the change and have adapted many of their benefit plan notices to be distributed to employees electronically.  It’s far easier and faster to send information to an employee electronically, which is why it has become the preferred method.  However, paper communications are still the preferred method from a regulatory agency perspective.

While it’s true that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) does permit certain documents to be communicated electronically, employers need to tread carefully when doing so.  According to an article in Employee Benefit News, employers can distribute many plan communications electronically, including summary plan descriptions, open enrollment materials, summaries of material modification, COBRA and HIPAA notices, and even the Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).  Still, the rules for electronic distribution are different depending on whether employees have work-related computer access. The primary difference is the requirement of obtaining consent.

Something all HR professionals should consider, however, is a recent survey conducted by Jellyvision about benefits communications.  It revealed that almost a third of employees prefer direct, one-on-one communications with HR while only 19% prefer direct mail and fewer still — 17% — said that they prefer email or website notices.  That same survey found that of the employers surveyed, they most frequently use non-interactive, text-based formats for communicating benefits information.  At 62.5%, email led that type of communication followed by websites at 53.5%, and direct mail at 52.8%.

The crucial thing is to know your audience.  If, as a company, you have employees who prefer electronic communications to deliver their HR notices and you have any needed consent from the employees to do so, then go ahead.  Otherwise, any HR department would be wise to continue using paper documents as that will lead to less confusion among employees.