As the beginning of a new year approaches, many of us will try to organize our offices, de-clutter both our physical desktop and our virtual one, and simply get rid of the unnecessary. One thing that Human Resources is known for is lots and lots of paperwork. While a large part of it is stored electronically these days, it’s still there, taking up space. Hey, record keeping is part of our job – we need to keep those records! That’s true. But are we keeping them longer than necessary?
Before we talk about how long to hold onto certain items, a quick reminder of the types of information that should be in an employee’s personnel file: Only information that can be legally used as a basis for an employment-related decision should be in an employee’s file. That means that information related to EEO, disability records and wage garnishments – all things that we cannot base employment decisions on – should be in separate files. A good practice is to keep I-9s in a separate file as well.
The list below outlines a few of the federal guidelines, although it is important to note that if state guidelines are different, you should pick the one with the longer time frame. Better to keep it longer than necessary than not long enough. Of course, some industries or circumstances come with their very own sets of requirements (such as Federal Contractors) and those do not follow the guidelines offered below.
- Hiring Records – 1 Year. Yes, you will need to save all of the cover letters, resumes, interview notes, etc. from the hiring process for one year after the hiring decision is made. Among other things, this serves as a means to protect businesses from claims of discrimination.
- Basic Employee Documentation such as I-9s or work permits for minors – 3 years after hire or 1 year after termination, whichever is longer.
- Drug Testing – 1 Year (longer for transportation related jobs). If you require drug testing as part of the pre-employment process, then it is considered part of the hiring process (See first bullet). If you do additional drug testing after employment has commenced, you will need to maintain these records for one year as well.
- Payroll Records – 3 Years Minimum. Payroll records include daily schedules, regular rate of pay (and basis for determining it), overtime pay, weekly compensation, amounts and dates of payments, daily and weekly hours, overtime hours and pay, annuity and pension payments, benefits, deductions and additions and more. Please note that 3 years is the minimum time to hold on to these records. In our highly litigious workplace, the best practice is hold on to them for at least five years after termination!
There are many more types of records that we hold on to, and each has guidelines regarding how long you need to retain them.