The 2023 Guide to HR Document Retention Requirements

7 min read
May 1, 2023

Table of contents

Please be aware that the content provided in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as legal advice. We are not lawyers, and our expertise lies in providing general information about document scanning services for HR records. If you require legal advice or guidance specific to your situation, please consult with a licensed attorney or professional legal services provider.

As a human resources (HR) professional, you know that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has strict record retention requirements for employee records. These requirements include those imposed by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Department of Labor (DOL), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). And then there are state regulations.

So many acronyms and so many requirements! It’s enough to make your head spin. It’s also enough to create an entire mountain range of paper, storage problems, and strict adherence to a retention schedule likely outlined on a spreadsheet. And when it’s time to toss those old records, can you find them, or do you just keep renting storage space and filling file cabinets?

Let’s go over the employer records retention requirements imposed by these various government agencies, and then we’ll clue you in on something that’s going to make your job easier and save your department time and money. Sound good? Read on.

Employee Record Retention Requirements

HR paperwork is both bountiful and complex. It also requires three personnel file folders for every employee until you’re not working together any longer, when everything can be combined into one file.

The three files and their records include

  • Personnel records
    • Selection and hiring
      • Applications
      • Resumes
      • Job ads
      • Screening tests
      • Interview notes
    • Once hired, records that relate to:
      • Promotions
      • Demotions
      • Transfers
      • Performance reviews
      • Terminations
      • Reasonable accommodations and request
      • Training
      • Incentives
      • Merit systems
      • Seniority systems
      • If applicable, a copy of EEO-1 survey and self-identification forms
    • Payroll records
      • Timesheets / time cards
    • Compensation records
      • Amounts and dates of actual payments
      • Time and day of week when the employee’s work week begins
      • Total hours worked each day and for the work week
      • Rate and basis used to pay wages
      • Straight time as well as overtime hours/pay
      • Any additions are deductions from employee wages
      • Total wages each pay period
      • Records that explain any sex-based pay differences
      • Annuity and pension payments
      • Any fringe benefits, including date of payment and pay period
      • Performance reviews
    • Benefit records for pension and welfare plans
      • Summary plan descriptions, updated with any changes
      • Annual reports
      • Any reportable events
      • Plan termination
    • Background checks
      • Credit reports
      • Criminal history
      • Driving records
      • Any information regarding character, reputation, personal characteristics 
      • Any other checks made by a third party
      • Consent forms and required disclosures for individuals
    • Tax records
      • Amounts and dates of all wage, annuity, and pension payments
      • Tip amounts
      • Fair market value of in-kind wages
      • Names, addresses, Social Security number, occupations of employees
      • W-2 forms that were returned as undeliverable
      • Employment dates
      • Periods when employees were paid due to sickness or injury and amount and weekly rate of payments made
      • Copies of employees income tax withholding forms, W-4, W-4P, W-4S, and W-4V
      • Dates and amounts of tax deposits
      • Copies of filed returns
      • Allocated tips
      • Fringe benefits provided with substantiation
    • Safety records
      • Log of occupational illnesses and injuries
      • Records of illnesses and injuries
      • Summary of illnesses and injuries
      • Records of any exposure to toxic substances for each employee
      • Criminal history
    • FMLA leave records
      • Payroll and identifying employee data
      • Dates FMLA leave is taken by eligible employees, including number of hours if leave is taken in smaller increments than a full day
      • Copies of notices of leave and eligibility notices
      • Employer policies and practices 
      • Employee benefit premium payments
      • Any dispute records
    • Polygraph test records
      • Copy of the written statement with time and place of test and employee’s right to consult a lawyer
      • Copy of the employer’s written notice to the examiner identifying the employee(s) to be tested
      • Copies of opinions, reports, and other records given to the employer from the examiner that relates to the test
  • I-9 records and any supporting documentation.
  • Medical records
    • Worker’s comp
    • ADA
    • Drug testing
    • Health care continuation

It adds up fast, and failing to comply means fines. Not only that, but if an employee were to file a lawsuit, you would need information from these files. That is if you can find them. And each of these records has its own timetable for retention and disposal. 

What is the Retention Period for Employee Information?

We wish there were a simple answer, but rules and regulations require employers to keep employee information for varying periods. 

I-9 – 3 years

An I-9 form provides proof that an employee can legally work in the U.S. Employers are required to keep an I-9 on file for each employee and keep the form for three years after the employee’s hire date or one year after termination, whichever is the later date. 

Personnel records – Varies

Here’s the sticky part. Not all personnel records have to be kept for the same time period.

  • Selection and hiring records 1 year after the creation of the documents or the hire or no-hire decision, whichever is later. After the employer and employee part ways, these records must be kept for one year after the termination date.
  • Records after hiring For qualified federal contractors, 2 years after document creation and hiring decision. If the employer has fewer than 150 employees or has no government contract amounting to $150,000, the retention period is 1 year.
  • Payroll records3 years
  • I-9 form – 3 years after the hiring date or 1 year after termination, whichever is later.
  • Benefit records These records must be retained as long as they are relevant and 6 years after termination.
  • Background checks While there is no specific retention requirement under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), general EEOC requirements for retention of hiring and selection records apply here and mandate 1 year. However, it’s recommended that you keep these records for at least 5 years, which is the statute of limitations in the FCRA. 
  • Tax records – 4 years after filing the fourth quarter for the year
  • Safety data You must keep these records for 5 years following the year the records pertain to, but MSDS safety sheets and any exposure to toxic substance records must be kept for the entirety of the employee’s tenure plus 30 years
  • FMLA leave records – 3 years
  • Polygraph test records These records must be kept for 3 years from the date of the polygraph test or from the date it was requested but not conducted. 
  • Drug test records 1 year from the test date and up to 5 years for records that relate to drug testing for DOT positions.

Also, note that disability accommodation records must be kept for 1 year from the date the record was created or the date the employer took action, whichever is later. If termination is involuntary, these records must be kept for 1 year from the date of termination. 

And while COBRA has no record-keeping requirements, experts recommend that to remain consistent with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 that these records be kept for 6 years from the date of the record.

HR has a big job with large repercussions. And a lot of paper to hold on to, all with its own special set of retention requirements. But rather than filing, storing, and using antiquated methods, there’s a much better way.

Save Time and Money While Maintaining Compliance

Bulk document scanning answers your document retention prayers.

No storage, no shuffling paper, no compliance worries. With document scanning services, you don’t have to worry about filing documents in the correct location or storing them for the required period of time. It removes the stress of file maintenance and lets you and your staff concentrate on what leads to business success–finding and hiring the right people for the right jobs.

Electronic documents take up no space at all. They can be backed up so they are never lost, sullied, or destroyed. Once they are uploaded to your document management system, scanned documents give instant access to anyone with permission and keep them secure from those who don’t.

Of course, scanning tens of thousands of sheets of paper isn’t something you can do on your own. DocCapture takes a tedious, time-consuming, mind-numbing document scanning project out of your hands. Instead of your staff spending weeks, months, or even years tying up your copiers and disrupting your business process, DocCapture will connect you with the best document scanning services available.

The whole process is called document imaging. Using optical character recognition (OCR technology), your paper documents will be converted to scanned documents that will digitally transform your department’s, and indeed your company’s operations, making them more efficient in terms of both time and money. 

For you and your staff, bulk document scanning is an impossibility. Our document imaging partners have the expensive scanning equipment, technology, and trained staff to do the work of digitizing documents efficiently and effectively in a fraction of the time.

Do more with less–paper, that is. Contact DocCapture today, and wake up tomorrow with a more efficient, money-saving department that might even earn you a raise. Get your free quote now!

Looking to scan your HR files? Let's get you a quote!


What is the purpose of record retention guidelines for HR records?

Record retention guidelines for HR records are designed to help organizations maintain proper documentation, ensure compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, protect employee privacy, and efficiently manage information. These guidelines specify the minimum length of time that various types of HR records should be retained and outline the proper procedures for storage, retrieval, and eventual disposal.

Are there any differences in record retention guidelines between paper and electronic HR records?

While the retention periods for paper and electronic HR records are generally the same, there may be differences in the methods of storage, retrieval, and disposal. Electronic records should be stored in a secure, encrypted format to protect employee privacy, and access to such records should be limited to authorized personnel. Disposal of electronic records should involve secure deletion methods that ensure data is unrecoverable.

What are the best practices for storing and managing HR records?

Best practices for storing and managing HR records include:

  • Establishing a clear record retention policy
  • Regularly reviewing and updating retention guidelines based on legal and regulatory changes
  • Limiting access to sensitive HR records to authorized personnel only
  • Ensuring proper security measures for both physical and electronic records
  • Scanning HR records in a systematic manner that allows for easy retrieval and auditing
  • Regularly disposing of records that have reached the end of their retention period
What are the potential consequences of not following proper record retention guidelines?

Failure to adhere to record retention guidelines can result in a number of negative consequences for an organization, including:

  • Legal and regulatory non-compliance, which may lead to fines, penalties, or lawsuits
  • Difficulty defending against employment-related claims due to insufficient documentation
  • Loss of valuable information or institutional knowledge
  • Increased vulnerability to security breaches and privacy violations
  • Inefficient use of resources and time spent managing outdated or unnecessary records
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