Dobbeck: Remember what records to keep

As you prepare to clean out your files, there are several rules and regulations concerning document retention and destruction that need to be considered.   

• Employment Application (hired): 6 years after termination

• Employment Application/resume (not hired): 1 year (2 years for some government contractor)

• Current Employee files: Life of employment 

• Terminated Employee files: 7 years after termination

• Employee handbook (manual): Permanent

• I-9 Forms: 3 years after hire or 1 year after termination (greater)

• Paychecks, W-2, W-4, 1099: 10 years

• Payroll Records: 10 years

• Time Cards and daily time reports: 10 years

• Wage & Hour records: 10 years

• ERISA Plan Documents: 6 years

• Form 5500: Permanent

• Plan and Trust Agreements: Permanent

• IRS Approval Letter: Permanent

• MSDS: 30 years after last use

Because of recent changes in Illinois, 10 years is now the recommended time frame to retain any records related to time and pay, including attendance records, time records and pay records, etc.  

Many government agencies have different requirements for document retention. Included are the Internal Revenue Service; both state and federal Departments of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration National Relations Labor Board; Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Beyond retention, the storage and disposal of records is also addressed in many regulations. Employers must safeguard employee’s private information during the employment relationship and ensure privacy after termination. To comply, be sure to lock hard copies of employee files and password protect electronic files.  

Health information has special requirements. Any record that contains a diagnosis, prognosis, treatment or medication is considered a health record and must be locked and stored separately from the employee file. Some records that are considered medical records include doctor notes, workers’ compensation records and health insurance applications. If an employee calls in to say he or she has a cold or the flu, that note should also be considered and filed as a medical record. Requests for medical leaves, including FMLA records, are also medical records. 

When the retention period has expired, employers must destroy employee records. Records must be “pulverized, burned or shredded” in a way to prevent accidental release of private information so please don’t toss employee records. Instead, make arrangements to have employee files destroyed.

What many business owners don’t realize is most electronic devices that copy and/or transmit documents – such as copiers, scanners and fax machines – contain a hard drive on which the copied information is stored. Unless the hard drive is scrubbed or removed, when the device is returned at the end of the lease or discarded, the information stored on it remains.  

To protect your company, make sure your equipment vendor has a system in place to scrub the hard drive. You may pay more for the service, but in the long run, you will know your confidential information, along with confidential information about your employees and customers is protected. If they don’t offer such a service, check with your IT department or contract with an outside service that provides this service.  

For detailed information covering a variety of documents other than personnel records, visit To view information regarding copiers and fax machines, visit

• Karla Dobbeck is president of Human Resource Techniques Inc. Reach her at 847-289-4504 or email

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