Readers Ask: What to keep? What to toss? — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily
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Q. What kinds of information and documents should we keep in our personnel files?

A. You should include pretty much all documentation concerning an employee’s history with the company—attendance, pay history, job history, discipline and evaluations—except medical documentation and, perhaps, protected activity information concerning matters such as discrimination and harassment complaints.

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, and other statutes, it is important to protect and keep medical information physically separate from other personnel files. — Louis DiLorenzo, Esq.

Keep or toss? The wrong decisions waste precious office space, trigger huge FTC violations and send you to court virtually guaranteed to lose every legal battle.

Still, some companies never worry. Their secret? A foolproof system...

Personnel Records: What to Keep, What to Toss

Q. What, specifically, does “separate” mean—in separate drawers of the same file cabinet? In separate offices? How far apart do they need to be?

A. There's no hard and fast rule on how far apart your “separate files,” such as those containing medical records, should be. The best answer: as far as is practical in your organization. In most cases, that means in separate file cabinets. The files don't need to be in separate offices because that's not practical in many organizations.

Q. We’re drowning in paper and would like to go paperless. Can we create strictly electronic personnel and payroll records?

A. The short answer is yes, you generally can maintain employment-related documents electronically. However, as with paper files, employers must take all appropriate steps to keep certain electronic documents (such as medical records) confidential and separate from the employees’ personnel files.

Tip: Electronic storage requirements differ slightly from paper requirements. Find out how to comply with both sets — without driving yourself crazy. Personnel Records: What to Keep, What to Toss

Q. We store most of our records off site. Are there any consequences of keeping them there?

A. Most state and federal statutes require that records be maintained in a form that is “readily accessible” for inspection. Those statutes, if read strictly, would require that your company be able to produce documentation for an unannounced, on-site audit.

As a practical matter, however, unannounced audits are not very common. If your company is able to retrieve its records upon request within 24 hours, it should be OK in almost all situations. If we’re talking about taking a week to retrieve the paper, then your company will have a problem.

Q. How long should I keep employment-related records, such as wage information and personnel files?

A. There are many records retention requirements under the numerous laws that govern the workplace. In some states, like Ohio, the limitations period for filing a discrimination claim under state law is six years, so the safest practice is to keep employment-related records for at least as long as your state allows discrimination claims. — Jan Hensel, Esq.

In Personnel Records: What to Keep? What to Toss? you'll learn:
  • Exactly how long to retain job applications, leave requests, payroll records, benefits information and more.
  • How to handle medical records, and who should — and shouldn't — have access to those files.
  • What to do when employees (or lawyers) ask to review personnel files.
  • Best practices for destroying records — safely and legally.

Yes! Please send me my copy so I can banish clutter — and lawsuits that arise down the road.


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