This week, thousands of students and teachers across the country are enjoying the spring break holiday. While we’re not taking a week-long holiday ourselves, it got us thinking about a different spring tradition - spring cleaning. While most people associate spring cleaning with de-cluttering their home, it’s actually a concept that can be relevant in the workplace as well. This year, we thought we'd tackle what can quickly become the biggest paperwork vortex in an office: employment records.
As you are likely aware, federal law requires that employers keep and maintain certain information pertaining to each of their employees. And when you really stop and think about it, the amount of information employers have about their workers is pretty staggering: Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, employment histories, tax returns, background investigations, drug test records - and that's just the tip of the iceberg. What's more, all of that information has to be properly and securely housed somewhere within the organization. It's easy to see how, with the sheer volume of paperwork that goes into an employee record, things can get out of hand quickly.
One aspect of employer record retention requirements that seems to trip many organizations up is exactly how long they are required to keep certain types of records. This is, in large part, due to the fact that employers are required to keep certain types of employee records longer than others, depending on the regulations established by the relevant legal authority that governs the information contained therein. To further complicate the matter, employers must also comply with any state-specific laws that regulate the retention or maintenance of employee records. These laws operate in conjunction with, or in addition to, federal requirements.
Because of this uncertainty and anxiety about potential overlap, many employers hold on to employment records far longer than may be necessary, resulting in an overwhelming amount of (usually) paper files. For this reason, setting aside time to periodically review the contents of each employee record to ensure that all required information is properly filed and maintained is recommended as a best practice for all organizations.
Consequences of employer record retention non-compliance
Employers who are found to have failed to maintain statutory records as required by federal law may be subject to civil monetary penalties. In some cases, there may also be the risk of individual and/or criminal liability. Employer records are also frequently used as evidence in employment-related litigation, both as evidence of employer misconduct or as a defense of actions taken by an employer. Employers should also be aware that it is illegal to destroy documents related to a current or potential lawsuit.
To help employers wrap their minds around the record-keeping requirements that their business may need to comply with, we’ve created a quick reference guide that outlines some of the federal laws that regulate employee records, the types of employee records to which they apply, and the required retention period associated with each.