Breaking down employer record retention requirements

Collecting and keeping track of various paperwork and records can cause confusion for many employers. Federal laws, such as the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Equal Pay Act (EPA), impose firm record-keeping duties on employers. These recordkeeping duties require employers to create and keep certain information related to their compliance with federal laws. 

Below, we have outlined numerous employer recordkeeping and retention requirements, indicating the longest retention period established by federal law. Please take into account this list does not attempt to outline all documents an employer may need in all situations. 

  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)
    • Payroll or other records for each employee containing name, address, date of birth, occupation, pay rate and compensation earned each week must be kept for three years.
    • All personnel records including job applications, resumes, job advertisements, documents related to hiring/failure to hire, firing, transfer, demotions, promotions, layoffs/recall, payroll records, job descriptions, employment handbooks, training programs, employee evaluations and requests for reasonable accommodation must be recorded. The retention period for these records is one year from the date of personnel action to which any records relate.
    • Employee benefit plans, such as pension and insurance plans and copies of documents describing any seniority systems and merit systems must be kept for the full period the plan or system is in effect, and for at least one year after its termination.
  • Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)
    • Employers must keep benefit plan documents, annual reports and summaries of annual reports, summary plan descriptions, and all information used in compiling required reports, such as vouchers, worksheets, receipts, applicable resolutions, and participants’ elections and deferrals. Generally, these should be retained no less than six years from the date of record or the date of filing (or date would have been filed but for exemption or simplified reporting requirement).
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
    • Any personnel or employment record made or kept by an employer, including requests for reasonable accommodation, application forms and other records having to do with hiring, promotion, demotion, transfer, lay-off or termination, rates of pay or other terms of compensation, and selection for training or apprenticeship must be kept one year from the date the record is made or the date of personnel action involved, whichever is later.
      • ***This requirement also falls under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Title VII and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).
    • Personnel records of an individual who is involuntarily terminated must be kept for one year after the termination.
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Title VII
    • Personnel records of an individual who is involuntarily terminated must be kept for one year after the termination.
    • For an apprenticeship program, a chronological listing of the names, addresses, gender and minority group identification of all applicants, including the dates applications were received, any test papers and interview notes, and all other records relating to apprenticeship must be kept two years from date record is made or program length, whichever is greater. 
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)
    • OSHA Form 300 (Log of Work-related Injuries and Illnesses), OSHA Form 300A (Summary of Work-related Injuries and Illnesses) and OSHA Form 301 (Injury and Illness Report) must be retained five years following the end of the calendar year that these records cover.
    • Employee exposure or medical records pertaining to employees exposed to toxic substances or harmful physical agents must be retained for 30 years
  • Internal Revenue Code (IRC)
    • Tax and Social Security records such as income tax withholding, Social Security, unemployment compensation and advanced date earned income credit payments must be kept four years from date of filing. 
  • Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA)
    • Copies of all COBRA-required notices; any documentation or signed acknowledgments that the notices were received by the employee/qualified beneficiary; and detailed documentation related to any instance in which COBRA continuation is not offered due to gross misconduct, late notification, Medicare entitlement or other reasons and all related correspondence. COBRA regulations do not specify a recordkeeping period. Since COBRA amended the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), it is generally recommended that records be maintained for no less than six years from the date of record, in accordance with ERISA requirements.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
    • Medical certifications and related medical information; type of leave taken; dates or hours of leave taken; name, position and pay rate of person on leave; copies of all notices given to or received from employee; documents describing employee benefits and status; documents describing employer policies and practices regarding leave; records of any dispute about the designation of leave as FMLA leave must be retained three years from the date the leave ended.
  • Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA)
    • Polygraph test results and the reasons for administering the test must be kept three years from the date the polygraph test is conducted.
  • Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA)
    • Any records relating to payment of wages, wage rates, job evaluations, job descriptions, merit or seniority systems, collective bargaining agreements, description of practices or other matters that describe or explain the basis for payment of any wage differential to employees of the opposite sex in the same establishment and that may be pertinent to a determination whether such differential is based on a factor other than sex must be kept for two years.
  • Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA)
    • All current employees hired since Nov. 6, 1986, must have an I-9 on file. I-9 forms for terminated employees must be kept for three years from the date of completion or one year from termination of employment, whichever is later.
  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
    • Payroll and other records containing each employee’s name, Social Security number, address, date of birth (if under 19), sex, occupation, time and day of the week when the employee’s workweek begins, hours worked each day, total hours worked each workweek, basis on which employee’s wages are paid, regular hourly pay rate, total daily or weekly straight-time earnings, total overtime earnings for the workweek, all additions to or deductions from the employee’s wages (including reasons for such additions/deductions), total wages paid each pay period, date of payment and the pay period covered by the payment must be kept three years from the date of entry.
    • Collective bargaining agreements, individual contracts, certificates, notices, sales and purchase records must be retained three years from the last effective date.
    • Records required for the computation of wages, including basic time and earning cards/sheets; wage rate tables; order, shipping, and billing records; and records of additions to or deductions from wages paid must be retained for two years
    • Certificates authorizing payment at less than minimum wage must be kept for three years.
    • Employee dispute records must be retained five years from making of the record for employers in the airlines industry, or two years for employers in the railroad industry.

These bullets only address federal law requirements, not state. To determine the time period for which records should be retained, it is important to reference applicable state laws in addition to federal laws. State laws may include recordkeeping requirements that operate in addition to or in conjunction with federal requirements. If you have any questions regarding employee record retention, don’t hesitate to contact our CanopyNation team.