With the New Year upon us, I want to organize and dispose of a lot of the old personnel files and paperwork we have in our office. How long do I have to keep these files?


Many different federal and state laws specify how long employers must retain employment related documents. Complying with these laws is especially important if a claim is made or an employee files a lawsuit. The law requires employers to preserve relevant documents and information that are stored electronically or in paper form as soon as the employer knows or should know that an employee may file a legal claim. An employer should also retain documents relating to all other employees who are similarly situated (e.g. have the same job or belong to the same protected class) as the complaining employee.

For these reasons, it is very important to have a clear document retention policy. The time frames described below apply when there is no claim pending. However, if you believe an employee may file a claim, retain all documents related to that employee, including all documentation relating to investigation of the employee’s claim, until the relevant statute of limitations for the claim expires. If a suit has been filed, do not dispose of any paper or electronic information that are relevant to the employee’s suit until the matter has been finally resolved.

Retain the following documents for 2 years:

  • Recruitment, Hiring And Job Placement Records, includingjob applications, resumes, referral and reference records, applicant identification records, advertisements and job opening notices.
  • Employee Personnel Files, including disciplinary notices, documentation of promotions and demotions, performance evaluations, discharge, layoff, transfer, and recall files, training and testing files, medical information files.

Retain the following documents for 3 years:

  • Employee Wage Records, includingtime cards, wage rate calculations for straight time and overtime, work schedules, and records explaining wage differentials between people performing the same job.
  • Employment Eligibility (I-9 Form)– retain for 3 years from hire date or 1 year after termination, whichever date is later.

Retain for 4 years:

  • Payroll Records, includingemployee name and personal data, address, occupation, wage records, work week documents, regular hourly rate, hours worked (daily and weekly), weekly overtime earnings, daily or weekly straight time earnings, deductions from or additions to wages, wages paid each pay period, payment dates and pay periods, and piece rates if applicable.

Retain for 5 years:

  • Employee Health Records , including medical and first aid records of on the job injuries, and drug and alcohol test records. Note that chemical safety and toxic exposure records must be kept for the duration of employment, plus 30 years.

Retain for 6 years, or 1 year following a plan termination, whichever is longer:

  • Employee Benefits Data, including d ocumentation of benefits elections, beneficiary designations, eligibility determinations, COBRA Notices and summary plan descriptions and earnings. Records required to determine retirement benefits, including 401 (k) and similar plans, must be kept indefinitely.

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