Retaining Those Documents

“I have a few boxes of old employee files in my warehouse. Is it okay to just throw them out?”

Your HR Survival Tip

The documents in employee files have a required shelf life. The length of retention is often related to the laws concerning how much time an employee or entity has to make a claim and or file a lawsuit where those documents may be needed. Even when you are no longer legally required to keep the documents, attorneys suggest you keep them for the life of the company… just to be safe. This is much easier now that we can digitize those docs. However, be sure to store the digital files on a protected drive so only authorized employees can access them.

No matter what the document may be, do not destroy anything while the employee still works for you. If your managers keep separate notes or records, ask for copies if an employee’s manager is changing or leaving. Below is a very basic list of minimum retention requirements:

  • Recruitment, hiring, and job placement records — 3 years or longer for any claim or litigation about your hiring practices.

  • Payroll records, including timecards, time-off accruals, schedules, wage notices, wage justifications, etc. — Default to the longest of 4+ years after termination.

  • Leaves of absence detailed records — 3 years.

  • I-9 Forms — 3 years from hire date or 1 year after termination, whichever is later.

  • Personnel files — 3 years after the termination date.

  • Benefits data, such as insurance elections, beneficiaries, COBRA notices, etc. — 6 years, but at least one year after a plan terminates.

  • Retirement plan records, including 401(k) docs — indefinitely.

  • Health records, such as first aid records, drug/alcohol tests, workers’ comp, COVID-19 cases — 5 years, but add 30 more years after termination for chemical safety and toxic exposure records.

  • COVID-19 reporting, including employee notices — 3 years.

  • Litigation records — Until a claim or case is completely over. You must retain all personnel and payroll files of the involved parties and of any other employees who may be used for comparisons.

Face it, we are now in an era where you’ll need to keep some records forever so why not keep them all when it’s so easy to scan and store them? If you have paper documents, you must have them in a secure location where only authorized people have access to those boxes and documents. If you are going to either scan the documents for digital storage or plan to throw them out, the paper must be shredded. The temptation of sneaking a look at the paper or digital personnel files is often irresistible. Your responsibility is to ensure the information is secure from the curious and retained per the laws.

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