In the United States, several Federal Government laws require employers to keep all sorts of documents for different periods of time. This is what’s known as a records retention schedule or policy.

A record retention schedule includes, but isn’t limited to, Title VII, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, FLSA, FMLA, ERISA, the Equal Pay Act (EPA), as well as OSHA. Each of these files includes personal employee information for your employer records. And each has a specific retention period that must be adhered to for your organization to stay in compliance with state and federal employee record retention requirements.

HR Retention Policy Best Practices

Your job as a Human Resources Records Manager starts before you actually hire anyone. In the “pre-employment” relationship, you actually need to save applications, resumes, reference checks, background checks, and job postings. This is to ensure fairness, non-discrimination, and equal opportunity for everyone.

During an employment relationship, you’ll need to keep all of the information in the new-hire package (including acknowledgments of policies and handbooks), the I-9, and health records. Tracking HR documents is often handled by an employee document management system. HR document management software allows you to organize, track, and report on employee records securely. Whether you are tracking documents electronically or in hard copy form, it is important to understand the best practices and values of a record retention schedule.

In paper-based HR records systems you should keep each of these separately; one file for the Personnel records, one for the I-9 records, and one for the Medical paperwork. Once the employment relationship has ended, records created as part of the separation should be filed within the personnel section of the file.

So, what goes into each of those employee files?

  • Personnel File Records – Applications, pre-employment tests, performance appraisals, rate changes, position changes, leaves, transfers, promotions, demotions, documentation of disciplinary actions and job descriptions
  • I-9 Records – The completed I-9 form and supporting documentation
  • Medical Records – Records related to work comp, FMLA, ADA, hiring, and drug testing

What are the federal record retention requirements for HR?

  • Records in the Employee Personnel File – 4 years after termination
  • Recruitment/Hiring Records – 1 year
  • Interview Notes – 1 year
  • I-9 forms – 3 years after the date of hire or 1 year after termination, whichever is later
  • Medical Records – Depending on whether the document relates to FMLA or HIPAA, 3 to 6 years
  • W-4 Forms – 4 years
  • Equal Pay – Any record relied upon to justify wage differentials between men and women — two years
  • Records under Title VII – 1 year
  • Payroll and Tax Records – Documents that include basic employee data like name, address, SSN, wage rate, number of hours worked daily or weekly deductions, allowances claimed and net wages – 4 years (some states require 6 years)
    • Note: there are no specific retention requirements under Lilly Ledbetter, however it is recommended that employers retain records for 5 years past termination
  • OSHA Logs – 5 years
  • COBRA – 6 years
  • Employee Benefit Plans – 6 years following the termination of the plan
  • Form 5500 and related correspondence – including all attached schedules, audited financial statements, and accountant opinions, as applicable – 6 years
  • Terminated/Separated Employees Personnel Records – 1 year

Adhering to your HR record retention schedule or policy is a complex and time-consuming process. However, in addition to complying with various federal and state laws, keeping good, well-organized records can be very helpful in documenting and supporting your organization’s employment actions.

The best way to ensure that your records are in good order is to establish and publish an employee records retention schedule and to use the right HR software to make your life easier.