Record Retention Guidelines
File Cabinet
November 20, 2017

We all have Human Resource records on each of our employees. These may be Human Resource files, I-9 Forms, Employee Benefits, Applications for Employment, and Payroll Records. These records are a must to keep while each of your employees remains an employee of your company. But, when can you actually destroy any of these records? The Federal and State Statutes have different guidelines to follow as it pertains to retention of Human Resource records.

The biggest thing to remember is that if you have a dispute with an employee that could go to trial, you should keep all the records almost forever! You never know when you will need to refer to these records. Some legal cases can take up to five or more years to settle.

You are permitted to maintain Human Resource documents in an electronic format. The main requirement is that you are able to reproduce any of the records to reflect their original format. This means that if someone used red ink to complete the form or there is a logo that has color in it, these colors must be able to be reproduced. This is where a good color copier comes in handy.

When you destroy documents that you no longer are required to retain, the best thing to do is shred them. There are several shredding services that will pick up the documents and shred them for you for a cost.

Here are some record retention guidelines to follow regarding particular files you may be keeping in the Human Resource File.

Application for Employment – Hired

Description: Applications, Cover Letters, References, Resumes
Minimum Requirement: Duration of Employment plus 4 additional years

Application for Employment – Not Hired

Description: Records that document the process as above and the reason why the person was not hired
Minimum Requirement: Two years if solicited. Unsolicited resumes do not need to be kept.

Employee Benefits

Description: Plan descriptions, annual reports, participants, amendments
Minimum Requirement: 6 years

I-9 Forms

Description: Immigration Reform and Control Act Documents
Minimum Requirement: Duration of Employment; or 3 years after the worker is hired; or one year after termination, whichever is later.

Personnel File

Description: Critical records that document employee service and compensation history. Includes all performance documents, disciplinary instances (follow policy on retention of these) and other employment records
Minimum Requirement: Duration of employment plus 7 years

Payroll Records

Description: Time Sheets, Time Cards, Dates of Payments, Deductions, Overtime records.
Minimum Requirement: Duration of Employment plus 4 years. Under the Lilly Ledbetter Act – 5 years.

Ideally, you will purge your files on an annual basis and shred those documents that are no longer needed. Remember to maintain a file of I-9 Forms in a separate binder and keep those separate and secure from your regular employee records. All medical information documents must also be kept in a separate file in a separate drawer and are not visible to anyone, except those that have a need to know. It is a good habit to also clean out your emails on an annual basis because your email is discoverable should any legal action be taken against your company from an employee. You may have written an email that you don’t want to have discoverable in such a situation. This is the area that we tend to forget when purging documents. On the other hand, do not delete any emails that are needed to defend a particular action. Make a copy of the email and put it in the Human Resource file.

Making it a habit to review the record retention policies and clean out the file cabinets on an annual basis helps not only to maintain a green environment but also may actually protect you against discovery should the lawyers knock on your door.

Carol Kardas

Carol Kardas


With 25+ years of generalist HR experience, Carol's focus includes compensation, training, and employee relations. She has advanced HR certifications: SPHR, CCP, SHRM-SCP.


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KardasLarson is a human resources and business consulting firm that maximizes employee performance so people and organizations prosper.



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