Can I shred these files?

By: Ruth Evans, Owner, Evans HR Group

With the number of state and federal laws mandating the length of time employers must hang on to a variety of employment data, it can be very confusing. Employers want to get rid of records when the employee is no longer part of the company, but shredding the files too soon can be costly.

Some laws require record retention for two years while others mandate five years. For that reason, many employers are simplifying the process by following a single rule:  maintain the employees’ records for the length of employment plus five years. While five years satisfies the requirement of most record-retention laws, the exceptions are:

1)     Pension and welfare benefit plan records – must be retained for six years after termination of employment; and

2)     Chemical safety and toxic chemical exposure records must be kept for 30 years after the termination of the employment relationship.

The following are some of the specific record retention requirements:

  • Recruiting, Hiring and Job Placement Records: includes job advertisements, resumes, employment applications, employment referrals, job opening notices sent to employment agencies, pre-employment testing results – Two years (or the duration of any claim or litigation involving hiring practices)
  • Payroll Records: includes employee name and number, address, age, sex, occupation, individual wage records, hourly rate of pay, time/day work week begins, hours worked, daily/weekly overtime earnings, daily/weekly straight time earnings, deductions from wages, wages paid by pay period – Four years
  • Employee Wage Records:  time cards, wage rate calculations, shift schedules, piece rates, records explaining wage differentials between sexes – Three years
  • I-9 Records:  the later of three years after hire date or one year after termination
  • Employee Personnel Files:  performance evaluations, disciplinary action notices, promotions, demotions, discharge/layoff/transfer/recall notices, training and testing files – Two years
  • Employee Health Records:  work-related injuries, drug and alcohol test records – Five years
  • Chemical and Safety Toxic Exposure Records – duration of employment plus 30 years
  • Employee Benefits Databenefit elections, beneficiary designations, eligibility determination, COBRA notices, SPD’s and earnings, records required to determine retirement benefits – Six years but not less than one year following a plan termination


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