Maintaining personnel files consumes not only time, but also valuable “real estate” in our file cabinets.  Because of this, many companies are tempted to combine all records for terminated employees into one file.  Unfortunately, that is not a good practice and in many cases could result in potential liability for the company.  It is highly recommended that the separate files you maintain for each employee when active should also be maintained separately after the individual terminates their employment with you.

There are a number of laws that apply to the maintenance of personnel files…including the files of those who are no longer in our employ.

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires companies to keep medical files in locked and secured manner separate from the general personnel file.
  • Additionally, medical records have a different retention period under the Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA) from personnel files.  OSHA requires that medical records be maintained for duration of employment plus 30 years.  Generally, personnel files need only be kept for 5-7 years.
  • It is a best practice to maintain I-9s separate from the general personnel file.  If your company’s I-9s are audited, they will have to be produced within 3 days and it is easier to have them all in one place instead of having to remove them from each personnel file for the auditor to review.  Also, the retention period for I-9s is different from that of the general personnel file.  The I-9 has to be kept for the duration of employment.  Once the individual has terminated, the company has to determine how long after termination to retain the I-9 form.  After termination, Form I-9 must be kept either three years after the date of hire or one year after the date employment terminated, whichever is later.
  • Payroll records must be kept for at least 7 years, which again differs from the retention period for the general personnel file.
  • Other confidential files that you may have, such has those for background checks, drug test results, EEO-related self-identification information (for federal contractors or subcontractors), etc., should also be maintained separately.

Protecting confidential employee records can prevent inadvertent disclosure and helps the company stay in compliance with the law.

Contributed by Christine Crews, SPHR, is Vice President of Human Resource Services for the Employers Association Forum, Inc. (EAF). EAF is a non-profit corporate membership-based association dedicated to serving the business and HR communities with world-class HR tools, hotlines & legal compliance, news & trends, surveys & economic data, benefits & insurance, risk management, training & consulting, and leadership & organizational development. or [email protected].

 Here's a list of EAF training programs for the month of November.  Members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce may attend these programs at a preferred rate. 


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