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How long to retain employment records?

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in HR Management,Human Resources

Q. I recently discharged some of my employees. How long must I retain their employment records? Are there different rules for electronic records versus paper ones?

A. No matter the records’ form, there are a number of mandated lengths of time various employment records must be kept. Because so many laws dictate different retention times for employment records, many employers simply keep the bulk of an employee’s personnel file and other records for the duration of employment plus four years.

This time period covers most laws, except for three types of records that must be retained for a longer duration and removed from a file before being disposed of:

  • First-aid records of injuries on-the-job causing loss of work time (five years)
  • Pension and welfare plan information (six years)
  • Safety and toxic or chemical exposure records, including safety data sheets (30 years).

The steady improvement of information technology has created a number of time- and labor-saving opportunities for employers, but also new liabilities.

You must pay careful attention to retention policies and practices to be sure they include retention of records stored in electronic form. Whether the records are stored electronically or physically, the retention requirements remain the same, but remember that proper filing, indexing and storage is critical regardless of the record’s form. As a stack of papers can easily be lost among filing cabinets, so too can electronic data disappear into the computational deluge of a poorly organized hard drive.

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