As an employer, there are certain employee documents you are required to keep on file. While Helpside backs up certain employee onboarding data regarding its clients’ employees, as a best practice we encourage our clients to maintain their own employee files. These files can either be in paper form or electronic, depending on your preference, needs, and system capabilities. Here is one way you can organize your employee files to help ensure compliance with Federal record retention requirements.

  1. Active Employees
    These files are organized alphabetically by employee name. Once an employee separates from the company, move this file to the Terminated Personnel files. Active employee files typically include the job application, resume, background check and pre- employment drug test results, offer letter, pay and bonus information, W-4’s, W- 2’s, payroll deduction authorization, benefit plan elections, beneficiary forms (excluding pension, retirement, welfare plans), policy and handbook acknowledgements, personnel action forms, salary/title/position changes, promotion/demotion records, performance appraisals, PIP plans, corrective action records, transfer/relocation records, training records, FMLA/ADA requests (Exclude any medical information. The requests can be stored both here and in FMLA/ADA files).When an employee completed their onboarding documents through the Helpside Onboarding Tool, you can print or save the onboarding information (including name, address, direct deposit information, and employee handbook acknowledgement) as a PDF and store it in your Active Employees file.
  2. I-9 Records
    Form I-9 along with any accompanying documentation should be kept separate in its own company-wide file for three years after the date of hire or one year after termination, whichever is longer. When an employee completed their onboarding documents through the Helpside Onboarding Tool, you should print or save the I-9 as a PDF and store it in your I-9 Records file. These files are best organized first alphabetically by active employee then, upon termination, move the I-9 to the terminated section of this file and organize it by purge date.
  3. Open Positions
    These are files for positions that are open and actively recruiting. These files are best organized by requisition number or job opening. The file should include all hire/no-hire records, job ads, job description, applications, resumes, reference check authorizations and notes, interview notes, scoring and screening tools, aptitude test results, personality test results, anything related to assessing candidates and making a hiring decisionOnce the job opening is closed, these files are moved to the Closed Positions file.
  4. Closed Positions
    These are files for positions that are no longer open and actively recruiting. These files are best organized by requisition number, job opening date or date the job closed. This file should include all documents form the Open Positions file listed above, any failed drug test or background check results if applicable, and anything else relevant in making your hiring decision.Keep these files for at least one year after the hire/no hire decision was made, two years if you are a federal contractor with more than 150 employees or if you have a contract of $150, 000 or more.
  5. Terminated Personnel
    These files are best organized alphabetically by employee name and should be kept five years from the date of termination. One option for termed personnel files is to maintain a sortable record with employee termination dates and file purge dates. Audit quarterly which files have hit the five-year mark, then pull and purge.
  6. Investigations
    These files are best organized by case, complainant or person being investigated. They should be kept separate from other employee files. Investigation records may include: Employee complaints, statements, witness statements, evidence to support statements, any material relied upon in making investigation findings, all material reviewed but determined to be irrelevant, any summaries or reports.Keep investigation files for a minimum of one year after termination. Longer if there are litigation holds in place related to pending or threatened employee claims of litigation.  In the event of a legal claim, please contact competent legal counsel for advice on litigation hold practices.
  7. Affirmative Action Plans
    These are nuanced and have very specific requirements. If you have Federal contracts and need assistance with AAP record retention, please contact the Helpside HR team at (801) 443-1090.
  8. Benefit Plan Records
    For companies who utilize the Helpside benefits programs, these records are kept by Helpside. For those clients who maintain their own benefit plans, these files are typically organized by plan type and kept separate from other files. Special retention rules apply with retirement, pension or welfare plans.Benefit plan records may include updated SPD’s, annual reports, plan amendments, plan terminations, any records used to determine benefits due to employees.COBRA records may include records of notices to employees and dependents of COBRA rights and options.Retirement records may include plan documents, participant files, Plan year documents, pension eligibility records, employee retirement beneficiary formsKeep these records at least six years (if 401(k) related, six years from when IRS Form 5500 was created from those records).

    Keep records necessary to a participant’s or beneficiary’s claim as long as they are relevant (this could mean indefinitely depending on the plan but at least termination + 50 years).

  9. Employee Payroll and Tax
    Most payroll and tax documents may be kept within the Helpside payroll software for clients of Helpside, but other records may be best kept in traditional electronic or paper files organized by file type.Some of these records may include compensation analysis information, pay structures, merit systems, bonus structures, annuity, fringe and pension payments, records explaining any gender pay differences, W-2’s and any returned marked undeliverable, dates and amounts of tax deposits.Keep these files for five years after termination of either the employee or the compensation plan.
  10. Medical Files (including general medical files, ADA and FMLA)
    These files are best organized by file type, then by employee. Once closed, employers can also choose to organize by purge dates. Medical information should be kept separate from employee personnel files and should be treated as confidential and kept secure. General medical files may include doctors’ notes related to absences that do not qualify under FMLA, ADA, or workers’ compensationADA records include all requests for accommodation, employer responses to those requests, accommodations granted, medical certifications, records proving undue hardship and why accommodation was not granted.Keep general medical files and ADA records for year after termination for private employers, and two years for public employers.FMLA files should include all FMLA leave records including requests, notices provided, medical certifications, communication between employee and employer, records of any disputes, FMLA hours/days taken, records of benefits maintenance

    Keep FMLA records for at least three years from the end of each FMLA event.

  11. Military Leave
    Military leave records should be kept separate from other files because they must be kept indefinitely. They are typically organized by employee. These would be considered permanent files.Military leave records may include all records related to a military leave of absence, requests for leave, copies of military orders and assignments, all records related to reemployment and employee benefits during and upon return from a military leave.
  12. OSHA
    OSHA record-keeping requirements vary depending on the industry. When workplace injuries or illnesses are involved it is possible that some medical records might need to be kept in multiple places including OSHA, workers’ compensation, ADA, and FMLA.OSHA records are typically organized by different record type and date or by employee if applicable. For example: incident logs, safety training logs/acknowledgements, material safety data, exposure to toxic substance records, medical exam records.OSHA records should be kept five years following the year the record pertains to. For medical exams, material safety data sheets and exposure to toxic substances records, retain for 30 years after termination.
  13. Workers’ Compensation
    Workers’ compensation records are typically organized by case or employee and are kept separate from other employee files. Records kept may include incident reports, medical exams and certifications, drug tests, claims filed, response to claim filings, records of disputesThere is no record retention requirement specifically for workers’ compensation records, however, records should be kept in accordance with OSHA requirements and for as long as the workers’ compensation claims are active.

Individual states may have requirements not addressed here, therefore, employers should review state employment laws for additional record- keeping and retention obligations. Please note that this document provides the most common documentation required of employers but does not attempt to outline all the documents an employer may need in all situations. Also note that this document is intended to provide helpful information only and should in no way be construed as legal advice.

If you have any questions, please reach out to the HR team at Helpside at or (801) 443-1090.