RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Update on retention of health screening records - 04/29/2021
I am writing to update the excellent advice on the RAQ page from November 2020 in regards to the r...
Posted: Thursday, April 29, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

I am writing to update the excellent advice on the RAQ page from November 2020 in regards to the retention of health screening records in a school district, local government, or state agency (under a separate retention schedule.)

I just called the state archives to confirm the retention period of library employee daily health screenings using LGS-1. They referred me to item 792c (positive health screening) with a 6 year retention and 792d (negative health screening) with a 1 year retention. (pg: 210-211 in the schedule.)

They have also updated their guidance on records related questions for COVID-19 
http://www.archives.nysed.gov/records/documenting-government-response-to-covid-19

Thank you for answering the original question in November. I hope this update to the response is helpful.

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

First: thank you very much for your kind words and feedback.  Both are very appreciated, and I encourage users of the service to keep a dialogue going--the service is only as good as the questions and input that inspire it.

Second, just to recap my advice from the November, 2020 "Ask the Lawyer" referenced by the member, it boiled down to:

"With no clear bucket and no clear requirements, at this point, I have to answer that retention of proof of screening should be permanent."

Time, as they say, has marched on, and as the member states, the State Archives has offered some additional guidance on this topic.

Here's where I am at: I have reviewed the additional information referenced by the member, and despite that input, I am just not confident that the time periods in LGS-792 "c" and "d" are the right fit for records showing a public library's routine use of employee screening as part of their Safety Plan,[1] and I continued to advise that retention be permanent (at least for now).

Here are the three reasons for my continued hesitation:

Reason 1: LGS-1 792a-f have a clear application, and I am not certain a pandemic response is quite it

I appreciate that 792c, which is part of the "Public Health" section of the LGS-1, applies to a "positive report" of a screening, and 792d is for a "negative report of individual screened."

However, as the remaining sections of 792 show, 792 applies to screenings conducted for public health initiatives that also (might) use: summary reports, master indices of "participants," informed consent forms, and a log used to compile data extracted from the screen.  

Logs, data crunching, and "informed consent" are all part of a public health agency's toolbox for public health initiatives in response to concerns such as the transmission and impact of a dangerous virus like COVID-19.

But unlike the majority of such initiatives, which tackle challenges such as STD's, tuberculosis, and cancer, employee health screenings for COVID-19 symptoms are part of a much larger effort conducted as part of an emergency response.

Reason 2: Emergency response records under the LGS-1

Because of the "emergency response" aspect discussed above, when I first reviewed the original question, I considered the applicability of LGS-1 802 ("public health incident files") which pertains to "records related to public health emergencies, communicable disease occurrences, and epidemics." 

Under 802 (also referenced in the State Archive's resource linked by the member), the retention period for "[s]urveillance, investigation, and response records" created in response to an epidemic is THREE YEARS "after [the] outbreak has abated."

Are a public library's employee health screenings "surveillance, investigation, and response records" during a "public health incident?"  Since employers are required to report the names of employees who screen positive to their local health department--who then engage in contract tracing and outreach--I believe they could be, which debatably makes the retention period of employee screenings (positive or negative) three years.

However, even three years doesn't sit right with me.  Here is why:

Reason 3: The other reasons to keep the records

My original answer went a little beyond the scope of required retention, addressing not only the precise retention period that might be required by the NY Arts & Cultural Affairs Law,[2]  but also, the other factors a public library might wish to consider when determining how long to retain the records of employee screenings.[3]

These "other factors" include legal claims based on alleged non-compliance with required pandemic procedures, some of which could underlie personal injury claims, alleged civil rights violations or even a contract violation (which has a six-year statute of limitations).[4]

In the body of New York case law involving personal injury, civil rights, and contract claims against public libraries, one can see an interesting pattern: sometimes public libraries are treated as government agencies, and sometimes, they are not.[5]  This is why public libraries are often required by their municipality to have their own insurance.  This also means that while they might be held to the document retention standards of municipal agencies, sometimes, they won't have the legal protections of one.

My concern was--and strongly remains--that a process of purging documents that could demonstrate use of and adherence to screening programs will only disadvantage a library, even if the lost record was properly disposed of under the LGS-1.[6]  There are reasons beyond required retention to keep those records.  And without a clear directive on retention, I think it is best that a library keep a close hold on them.

In closing

I am sure no public library that documents input from State Archives about the applicable retention period and then purges negative screens after 1 year will be met with a penalty from the State

But as you can see in "Reason 3," the State is not my primary concern. 

With the benefit of 5 additional months since my original answer, I will take advantage of this chance to refine it to revise my above-quoted statement and change it to:

"Even when we get clear requirements, I have to answer that retention of proof of screening should be permanent, or at least until your library's attorney has determined that any advantage to the library created by retention is past, and your library has determined they are of no historical significance."

Thank you very much to the member for giving me the opportunity to re-visit this issue and to offer this updated (and hopefully improved) guidance.  I am sorry to cause you more use of storage room, but gratified to have the chance to offer this analysis!

 

Afternote:  Below are the relevant excerpts from LGS-1 792 and 802:

792 CO2 508, MU1 472, MI1 409

Results of screening programs, except lead poisoning

a          Summary reports on screening results: RETENTION: PERMANENT

b          Master index or listing of participants: RETENTION: 50 years

c          Positive report of individual screened, including statement of consent or participation   and authorization for release of information: RETENTION: 6 years, or 3 years after    individual attains age 18, whichever is longer

d          Negative report of individual screened, including statement of consent or participation   and authorization for release of information: RETENTION: 1 year

e          Log or other working record of screening and testing, used to compile statistics and other      data: RETENTION: 1 year

f           Anonymous H.I.V. test results and related records: RETENTION: 7 years

NOTE: Identifiable H.I.V. related records are covered by item nos. 743 and 745, and related laboratory records are covered by items in the Laboratory subsection.

 

802

Public health incident files, including records related to public health emergencies, communicable disease occurrences, and epidemics

a          Surveillance, investigation, and response records: RETENTION: 3 years after outbreak          has abated

 

...

NOTE: Appraise these records for historical significance prior to disposition. Records of unusual disease occurrences or epidemics may have continuing value for historical or other research and should be retained permanently. Contact the State Archives for additional advice.

 



[1] This "Ask the Lawyer," like the original, avoids the issue of whether a non-association library has decided it must follow its local government's safety plans, or generate its own, and under which order or mandate that safety plan and the library operates.  The last footnote will show you why!

[2] The Law that empowers the Archives to develop the LGS-1.

[3] FOIL and various claims of civil liability being the top reasons.

[4] What I said was: "Most people know that when you leave a paper trail, it can (with many exceptions) be used for—or against—you in court.  In the employee data arena, common uses of such evidence are labor law and civil rights claims."

[5] For a good case illustrating this, see the chain of cases here: Gilliard v. New York Pub. Library Sys., 597 F. Supp. 1069, 1074-75 (S.D.N.Y. 1984)  New York Public Library v. PERB, 45 A.D.2d 271, 274, 357 N.Y.S.2d 522 (1st Dept. 1974), aff'd, 37 N.Y.2d 752, 337 N.E.2d 136, 374 N.Y.S.2d 625 (1975); Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830, 840, 102 S. Ct. 2764, 73 L. Ed. 2d 418 (1982)); Breytman v. New York Pub. Library, No, 05 Civ. 10453 (RMB) (FM), 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12769, 2007 WL 541693, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 21, 2007),  Breytman v. New York Pub. Library, Dyckman Branch, 296 F. App'x 156 (2d Cir. 2008)

[6] Unless your library hasn't had a safety plan and hasn't been performing screenings, in which case, talk with your lawyer and consider the best way to mitigate your risks!

Tags: COVID-19, Emergency Response, Personnel Records, Records Management, Record Retention

The WNYLRC's "Ask the Lawyer" service is available to members of the Western New York Library Resources Council. It is not legal representation of individual members.