Lancer Insurance
Saturday, May 25, 2024
By Amy Cooley

I know I’m not alone in this: When springtime arrives, I love to open my windows wide to let in the fresh air. I get the urge to clear out the extra stuff

that seems to add weight to the atmosphere of my home by getting organized, clearing out unwanted or unused items, and wiping away the dust and dirt that seemed to hide throughout the darker winter months. Basically, I want the inside of my home to feel as fresh and new as the glorious signs of spring appearing outdoors.

We can carry this feeling into our offices and businesses as well, making this an ideal time for cleaning out and organizing your office and files. For our purposes here, I’ll be covering personnel files. Regardless of the size of your operation, you are no doubt aware that you are required to keep certain documents on file for your employees. Additionally, there is quite a bit of paperwork that is generally recommended to keep on hand that will be helpful to you in reviewing for merit raises, responding to unemployment claims, and myriad other processes and concerns.

So let’s open the windows and roll up our sleeves—it’s time for a good spring cleaning of our HR files!

There are actually three sets of records you should have on file for each employee: I-9 documents, performance documents, and compliance documents:

1. I-9 File: You should have all of your employees’ I-9 forms in a file together, stored separately from your other employee documents. This file is subject to audit by government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice (Immigrant and Employee Rights Section), and the Department of Labor. It is important that this information is kept in a binder or file separate from your other records. If you choose to keep copies of the identification and work authorization documents provided, those should be kept together with the I-9.

How long do I have to keep it? I-9 forms must be completed within three days of the employee’s start date, and you must keep them for at least a year after the employee’s end date (or for a minimum of three years after the date of hire, whichever date is later).

Tip: Missing or incorrect I-9 forms can result in some hefty fines, or worse. Go directly to the source ( for advice. And if you still need help, work with an HR professional.

2. Employee Performance File: You may also hear this referred to as the employee’s “general” file, and the employee has the right to view this file. This is the place for any paperwork related to the employee’s skills, experience, job performance, training, attendance records, and essentially anything that their supervisor or the company management would review when making decisions about hiring, promotions, pay raises, and so on. Here are some examples of common documents in a performance file.
  • Application and resume
  • Job description
  • Handbook and policy acknowledgements
  • Training records
  • Performance reviews
  • Performance management docs (coaching conversations, warnings, term letters)
  • EE Change Forms (documents employment status changes such as job title, hourly to salary, etc.)
  • Time off requests and attendance records
How long do I have to keep it? While rules vary by document, most are required to stay on file anywhere from one to five years. We recommend hanging on to these files for at least five years and retaining timesheets for at least seven years.

Tip: In the case of any disputes or lawsuits or similar legal actions, you are required to retain all records until the issue is officially resolved.

3. Employee Compliance File: This file is sometimes referred to as a “restricted” or “confidential” file because it contains information that might be more sensitive or legally protected. Documents that contain Social Security numbers, medical information, or banking information belong here. So do documents with potentially prejudicial employee information, which includes race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. Much of this information you are required to keep in a secured area, whether behind a locked door or in a locked file drawer. Examples of confidential documents include these:
  • Background check results
  • Drug screen results
  • Motor vehicle report
  • DOT medical card
  • Emergency contact form
  • W-4
  • Benefits
  • Direct deposit form
How long do I have to keep it? Similar to the performance file, document retention timelines vary, so to keep it simple, we recommend holding on to these documents for at least five to seven years. When you do dispose of employee files, they should be destroyed—usually shredded or burned.

Tip: Interview notes and references might sound like performance documents, but they often contain sensitive information that you don’t want the employee to read, so we recommend placing these items with the compliance file.

HR regulations are complex. When in doubt, hold onto that document and get professional advice.   [CD0321]

Amy Cooley is the Customer Service Consultant for the LMC Groups. she can be reached at