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Taming the paper tiger: What to keep—and for how long

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Hiring,HR Management,Human Resources,Office Management,Records Retention

Some HR departments are notorious for keeping every stack of paper indefinitely, while others fail to keep enough. Neither approach is acceptable, and it’s up to you to maintain a happy medium that complies with the law.

Proper record-keeping is one of an HR professional’s core duties. Knowing what legally must be kept and for how long are important aspects of that duty. Many overlapping statutory and regulatory requirements affect record retention, each with subtle and critical differences you need to understand.

State-pay records requirements

North Carolina law requires all employers to keep and maintain for three years records of tip credits, costs of meals and lodging, start and end times for employees under age 18, youth employment certificates, wage deductions, leave policies relating to wages and all other records generally required to compute wages.

Employees subject to overtime and minimum age requirements must retain each employee’s full name and contact information, date of birth (if under age 20), job title, time and day of week when the workweek begins, regular rate of pay, hours worked each day, total hours worked each week, total straight-time and overtime earnings each workweek, total additions or deductions from wages, total gross wages paid each pay period and date of each payment.

Complying with North Carolina’s wage-and-hour law will put you in compliance with federal law. Federal regulations do have a few more specific requirements (such as retaining records from which commissions are calculated), but those documents would be covered regardless under North Carolina’s catch-all “all records required to compute wages.”

FMLA records to keep

The federal FMLA requires covered employers to keep for three years all records relating to the dates eligible employees take FMLA leave, hours of intermittent leave taken, leave notices submitted by employees, FMLA notices distributed by the employer, the employer’s general leave policies and disputes regarding designation of FMLA leave.

Work eligibility documentation

Federal immigration laws require employers to keep Form I-9s on file for three years from the date of hire or one year following the date of termination, whichever is longer.

Employee safety records

North Carolina and federal occupational safety and health regulations require employers with 11 or more employees in certain industries to maintain a log of all workplace injuries or accidents (typically on OSHA Forms 300 and 301) for a period of five years following the end of the year to which the log relates.

In addition, the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act requires every covered employer to “keep a record of all injuries, fatal or otherwise, received by his employees in the course of their employment....” While many of these incidents must be reported to the North Carolina Industrial Commission, certain minor incidents are not reported. The law does not specify how long to maintain records of such unreported incidents.

Anti-discrimination records

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the ADA require covered employers to retain for one year from the date of action all employment records. That includes application forms, résumés and other hiring records. Also covered are records of promotions, demotions, transfers, layoffs, discharges, pay rates and other terms of compensation, as well as requests for reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

Employee documents related to a discrimination charge must be kept for at least two years, although it is advisable to retain those records until the conclusion of any related proceedings.

Forms EEO-1 prepared by employers of 100 or more employees must be kept for at least one year.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) regulations require retaining for one year any employment test papers and results, results of physical examinations and job advertisements and other public notices regarding job openings, training programs, promotions and opportunities for overtime. If an ADEA discrimination charge has been filed, keep those records until final disposition of any proceedings.

The EEOC requires all employers that use standardized tests to make employment decisions to retain for one year records showing the number of persons hired, promoted and terminated for each job (by sex, race and national origin), the number of applicants for hire and promotion (also by sex, race and national origin) and the selection procedures utilized. Employers of 100 or more employees must also keep for one year records and information on the individual components of the selection process.

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