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Last week, I discussed and praised the innovation of Office Depot and its paperless receipt system. I concluded the blog by teasing that this week’s post would be about the paperless office model and how that relates to a litigation-resistant business.
First, what do I mean by a “paperless office?” Wikipedia defines a paperless office as “a work environment in which the use of paper is eliminated or greatly reduced.” As the article explains, this is accomplished by digitally converting documents, forms, receipts and other paper records. A paperless office can save a small business owner significant money, boost productivity, save space, make documentation and information sharing easier, and keep personal information more secure.
Further, I coined the term “litigation-resistant business” to mean any organization which has taken an active role in reducing its general exposure to civil and criminal liability. A business can reduce its liability, and therefore increasing its resistance to litigation, in three steps: 1) Organization, 2) Education, and 3) Implementation. Future blog posts will explain these concepts in more depth, but suffice it to say that that a small business owner must be aware of his or her business’s unique circumstances that make it susceptible to litigation.
All businesses are in some degree of risk of litigation. Just as there’s no such thing as “a risk-free” investment, so too is a “litigation-free business” a figment. Risk and liability can be found in any number of sources. Examples of sources of risk and liability can be the particular nature of the business (i.e., a moving company is especially vulnerable to damaging a person’s property), a pervasive regulatory environment (i.e., a company that performs blasting activities at a granite quarry), or simply employee conduct or behavior (i.e., a disorganized office manager or a delivery driver with a prescription drug addiction). However, an organization can mitigate, or reduce, the chances of facing the costly ordeal of litigation.
A paperless office has significant advantages for maintaining a litigation-resistant business, but a few unforeseen disadvantages as well. Importantly, a paperless office DOES NOT mean a “recordless” office. Quite the contrary. A paperless office ensures that its records are stored digitally, as opposed to in a filing cabinet. Because a business’s records are kept digitally (and ideally backed up using offsite cloud storage, such as Carbonite), a company has instant access to its important records. These records can help prevent litigation by showing that it filed a particular document on time, that it performed regular safety and health examinations of its equipment or work areas, or that it abided by any number of federal, state, or local regulations.
On the other hand, for a company that has questionable business practices, having easily accessed records may come back to bite them. During the discovery phase of litigation, for example, a business that regularly discriminates against a particular class of job applicant may be forced to turn over highly incriminating email correspondence showing a history of discriminatory actions.
For the vast majority of businesses, however, a paperless office confers far more benefits than not. From reduced operational costs, to ease of access of records, to reduced office clutter, a paperless office will put organizations of any size on the forefront of technology and provide them with an inherent competitive advantage over their competition
Robert S. Bexley, Attorney
Bexley Law Firm, LLC