For the Record: Making Sense of Employee Recordkeeping

One of the most time-consuming and confusing parts of managing employees is managing their paperwork. From the moment you first meet a candidate to their eventual last day on the job, the employer/employee relationship generates a paper trail that includes resumes, offer letters, signed employee handbooks, I-9s, performance reviews, benefits and compliance documents, and much […]

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One of the most time-consuming and confusing parts of managing employees is managing their paperwork.

From the moment you first meet a candidate to their eventual last day on the job, the employer/employee relationship generates a paper trail that includes resumes, offer letters, signed employee handbooks, I-9s, performance reviews, benefits and compliance documents, and much more. With all of that paperwork, having an efficient system for organizing and maintaining those records is of crucial importance to your business.

Which employee records should I keep and for how long?

You want to think about employee paperwork as being divided into four main categories with the following general rules for maintaining paperwork:

  1. Personnel
    Personnel records for 7 years after termination.
  2. Medical and Benefits
    Medical and benefits for 6 years after the plan date.
  3. I-9
    Keep forms for 3 years after termination.
  4. Hiring
    Hiring records for 2 years after hiring date.

Are there any other records I should be keeping?

Yes. Beyond those four categories, you should also be keeping records of information related to injuries, equal employment, fair labor practices, and more. Keep reading for a full breakdown of each record type you should be keeping and best practices for doing so.


The Occupational Safety and Health Association requires companies to record and report work-related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. You must then keep these records for five years. You should also keep the medical and benefit records of employees who’ve been exposed to occupational hazards or diseases for 30 years.

  • What: Not sure what counts as an injury? OSHA has a number of definitions to help you determine what you need to report: Injuries: A cut, fracture, sprain, or amputation. Must be diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional. Illnesses: Includes both acute and chronic illnesses, like a skin disease, respiratory disorder, or poisoning.
  • When: While they have more specific requirements for certain industries, in general, all employers must report: All work-related fatalities within eight hours, all work-related in-patient hospitalizations, amputations, or eye loss within 24 hours.
  • How: You must report work-related injuries and illnesses via phone using OSHA’s free and confidential number: 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), or calling your closest area office during normal business hours. If you have more than 10 employees and you are aren’t a partial exempt industry, you must record work-related illnesses using OSHA forms 300, 300a, and 301.


The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires employers to retain and manage personnel files for all employees. Included in this recordkeeping are the following:

  • What: Personnel and employment records, which are essentially any document made or used to promote, demote, transfer, lay-off, hire, compensate, and so forth.
  • When: Must be kept for one year after they’re made, or after an action is taken. For example, if you promote someone based on a performance review, the performance review must be kept for one year after the date of promotion. You must also keep personnel and employee records for 1 year after the employee leaves the company.
  • How: There are no specific requirements or format for keeping employee personnel records.


The Fair Labor Standards Act requires every covered employer to keep records for non-exempt workers.

  • What: The following is a list of the basic records that an employer must maintain: Employee’s full name and social security number. Address, including zip code. Birth date, if younger than 19. Sex and occupation. Time and day of week when employee’s workweek begins. Hours worked each day. Total hours worked each workweek. Basics on which employee’s wages are paid (e.g., “$9 per hour”, “$440 a week”, “piecework”) Regular hourly payrate. Total daily or weekly straight-time earnings. Total overtime earnings for the work-week. All additions to or deductions from the employee’s wages. Total wages paid each pay period. Date of payment and the pay period covered by the payment.
  • When: Payroll records, collective bargaining agreements, sales and purchase records must be kept for three years. The records on employee compensation, including reasons why employees were paid what they were paid (e.g. work and time schedules, wage rates, etc), should be kept for two years.
  • How: There’s no set format for keeping these records, though they must be kept at the place of employment or record office.


The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects employees over the age of 40 from age-based discrimination.

  • What: Payroll records and employee benefit plans (such as insurance and pension).
  • When: Payroll records must be kept for three years, while benefit plan info has to be kept for one year after termination.


Employee Retirement Income Security Act establishes minimum standards for pension plans among private sector employees. In order to do its job, it requires private employees submit records about pension plans.

  • What: Form 5500, which is used to report information concerning employee “defined contribution plans” which include 401(k)s, employee stock ownership plans, and so forth, and “defined benefit plans,” which include pensions and other other retirement plans.
  • When: The form needs to be submitted every year online, using the Department of Labor’s portal.


U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requires employer to verify their employees work-eligibility through an I-9 form.

  • What: I-9 Form for all employees on the company payroll.
  • When: The USCIS has a handy tool for calculating how long you have to hold on to an I-9. Generally, it is three years after termination.
  • How: You can keep the I-9 in a number of ways: either on-site or at an off-site storage facility, with personnel records or separate from them, and either in paper, microfiche or electronic format (or some combination of the three). If requested, you will have three days to produce the I-9, so pick a “how” that’s handy.

7) IRS

The Internal Revenue Service requires you to keep records which monitor the progress of your business.

What: The IRS states that you “may choose any recordkeeping system suited to your business that clearly shows your income and expenses.” This can include: Dates and amounts of wages, annuity, and pension payments Amount of times reported and records of those tips Names, addresses, social security numbers, and occupations for employees W-2s & W-4s Dates of employment Records of fringe benefits Copies of filed returns Dates and amounts of tax deposits.

When: All records of employment taxes must be kept for at least four years.

How: There’s no specific method for storing these documents.


Family Medical Leave Act allows covered employees to take unpaid time off of work to attending family, or personal medical issues. You must retain records surrounding employees’ time off for FMLA leave.

  • What: Personnel information and information relating to medical certifications, recertifications, or medical histories of employees or employees’ family members.
  • When: At least three years.
  • How: All medical information is confidential and must be kept separate from regular personnel files.

9) ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act is designed to protect against discrimination based on disability within the workplace.

  • What: Records related to hiring, including: Application forms, resumes, job postings (both internal and external). Records related to promotion, demotion, transfer, lay-off or termination, rates of pay, etc. Also, any requests for reasonable accommodations.
  • When: One year after making the record or taking an action (whichever occurs later).
  • How: If there’s any medical information (for instance in some of the reasonable accommodation paperwork), it must be treated as confidential and stored separately from personnel files.

10) State Laws

What, When, and How: It really depends on your state. The Society for Human Resource Management has a full list of state laws and their recordkeeping requirements.

Does this sound overwhelming? That’s because it is! Particularly if you’re doing all your recordkeeping on paper, or with multiple spreadsheets. At Zenefits, our platform digitizes all of your recordkeeping paperwork and does the necessary administration, reporting, and compliance for you.

How many of these recordkeeping rules did you know?

And, how efficiently are you keeping track of them? Use the Zenefits HR Grader to see how efficiently you’re managing your HR.

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