Federal Records Management

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Records Management During the COVID-19 Pandemic

April 23, 2020

 

Records Management Related to Teleworking

How should agencies capture and maintain records created while staff are teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Employees on telework should continue to manage all records in accordance with their agency policies and procedures. See our FAQ on Telework.

Some teleworking employees may find that they use personal email accounts or other electronic messaging applications, like text messages or messaging apps within social media or video conferencing tools, to communicate for work. Please note the Federal Records Act (44 U.S.C. 2911) requires federal employees who use non-official electronic messaging accounts to copy their electronic messages to an official account or forward a copy to an official account within 20 days (when the messages are not transitory records with a retention of less than 20 days).

If an agency is using Microsoft Teams, Skype for business, Zoom, or another video conferencing platform to communicate with one another, do these tools need to be scheduled?

Many agency meetings, seminars, training sessions, and other events have moved to a virtual environment. Agencies should continue to manage the records created with these tools as they would have had the meetings been held with the same technology while in the office. Teleconferencing tools are much like social media platforms. These are software and technology solutions for communications that do not require a records schedule.

If employees print at home, are those printouts Federal records?

Agencies should consider the implications of allowing printing at home, including from a records management, FOIA, and information security perspective. If printouts contain unique information, including handwritten notes, they may need to be managed separately from electronic files that lack this information. Agencies should review GRS 5.2 and provide instructions to employees on when these printouts may be transitory or intermediary records or when another records schedule may apply. 

 

Records Retention

Are employee medical records related to COVID-19 covered by the GRS?

GRS 2.7, Employee Health and Safety Records, includes items for employee medical files; however, the items specifically cover official employee medical files (Occupational individual medical case files, items 060-062) and unofficial employee medical files (Non-occupational individual medical case files, item 070). Unless an agency is putting COVID-19 related information into individual employee medical files, these items will not apply.

GRS 2.7, items 040-043, Workplace Environmental Monitoring and Exposure Records, do not apply to tracking employee exposure to COVID-19. These items apply to exposure to OSHA-regulated substances, noise, Lead (Pb), Coke Oven emissions, Dibromochloropropane (DBCP), Acrylonitrile, and Inorganic Arsenic.

Are records related to agency response to COVID-19 covered by the GRS?

GRS 5.3, Continuity and Emergency Planning Records, only covers records related to Federal agency internal emergency planning to protect people, government facilities, equipment, and records; to safeguard classified or sensitive information; to ensure continuity of agency operations in the face of potential natural and man-made disasters; and to facilitate timely recovery and return to normal agency operations once the emergency or disaster has passed. This would include planning for the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the GRS does not cover incident response records or external emergency planning records related to providing emergency response and recovery services to the public. These records should be scheduled on agency-specific schedules. Agencies should look at their existing authorities related to incident response to see if they can be applied to records related to their response to COVID-19. If agencies do not have approved disposition authority for incident response records, these records would need to be scheduled.

In regard to COVID-19 internal emergency planning records, the GRS indicates that plans that are acted upon in the event of a national emergency may be of permanent value. Agencies may request to schedule these records as permanent. (See GRS 5.3, item 010, Note 1). This does not mean that all internal emergency plans related to COVID-19 are permanent, only that NARA will consider schedules from agencies that believe these plans should be permanent.

Can agencies use GRS 2.7, item 070 or GRS 5.3, Item 010, to schedule records related to agency employee exposure to COVID-19 and testing of employees for the virus?

If your agency is setting up a system to track employee exposure, testing, or quarantining related to COVID-19, these records are not covered by the GRS unless the information is being placed in individual employee medical files. Consult your agency authorities related to incident response to see if they may be applied. Otherwise, these records may need to be scheduled. If information is maintained in individual employee medical files, see GRS 2.7, items 060-070.

Will NARA be issuing a General Records Schedule (GRS) to cover COVID-19 records?

NARA is not planning to issue a new GRS specifically for COVID-19 records. Records related to COVID-19 response would vary too much in scope, content, and value across the Federal government and may already be covered by many agencies' existing schedules. 

Can agencies apply their disposition authorities for disaster response, incident response, or pandemics to records related to responding to COVID-19? Does it require a modification to the schedule?

Yes, agencies may apply disposition authorities for records related to disaster response, incident response, or pandemics, to records related to response to COVID-19, provided that those authorities are not written to apply to records related to only a specific incident (e.g., Hurricane Katrina response). If the disposition authorities are written to apply generally to such incidents, there should be no need to specify application to COVID-19. If you have questions about whether your agency’s authority may be applied to COVID-19 response records, please contact your agency’s assigned NARA appraisal archivist.

If your agency does not have a disposition authority for disaster, incident, or pandemic response, then you will need to schedule records related to response to COVID-19.

Are records related to COVID-19 permanent?

Whether records related to COVID-19 are permanent depends on how the agency’s records are scheduled. If your agency believes the records should be permanent, you may submit a schedule for the records specific to COVID-19 response. Please contact your NARA appraisal archivist for further assistance.

With the scale of COVID-19, will agencies need to keep employee health records and agency response and planning records longer than they are currently scheduled?

Generally, the retention schedule of any record takes into account future business needs as well as the potential for use in litigation or to seek benefits. However, after the current public health crisis subsides, agencies should work with their internal stakeholders, including their Office of General Counsel (OGC), to determine if the records warrant re-appraisal. 

Should records related to COVID-19 be kept in case of possible litigation?

Records officers should be in communication with their agency’s OGC to determine if any records are needed for current or the reasonable likelihood of litigation. Agencies should have internal policies in place regarding issuing of litigation holds, if that is necessary. NARA does not recommend retaining records “just in case” of litigation. This can result in retention of records long after the need for them has passed as well as a lack of clarity over why they were retained and who has the authority to dispose of them. Rather, litigation holds should be implemented in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, agency policies, and guidance from the Department of Justice. 

Who should agencies contact for additional information?

For additional assistance contact your NARA appraisal archivist. For questions specifically related to the application of the General Records Schedules (GRS), please contact GRS_Team@nara.gov

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