How Long Should You Keep HR Documents Before Shredding?

Record keeping isn’t a fun task, but it is a necessity at every company. Document everything you do at your office. Proper paperwork can help you to prevent common employment lawsuits in the future. It’s important to protect your business, but how long do you need to hold on to HR documents before shredding? The answer might surprise you.

Stacks of HR documents on shelf

Most companies maintain rooms full of file cabinets that are bursting with important employment paperwork. This is a good thing. Proper record keeping is essential for a company to stay organized and stay out of any legal trouble. There are both state and federal laws that mandate that your company keep important employment paperwork on hand for a predetermined amount of time – and you better do it or it might come back to haunt you.

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So how long do you need to keep HR documents before shredding? The honest answer is that it depends. There are different requirements under different laws such as Fair Labor Standards Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Civil Rights Act of 1964, COBRA, Equal Pay Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, and others too. Find a full list of how long you need to keep documents based on each law on

The following time frames are only general guidelines and do not indicate actual legal advice. According to, this is a recommendation for how long you need to keep HR documents before shredding:

  • Records In The Personnel File – 4 years after termination
  • I-9 Forms – 3 years after date of hire or 1 year after termination
  • Medical Record – 3 to 6 years
  • W-4 – 4 years
  • Equal Pay – 2 years
  • Title VII – 1 year
  • Payroll and Tax Records – 4 to 6 years
  • OSHA Logs – 5 years
  • COBRA – 6 years
  • Employee Benefit Plans – 6 years following plan termination
  • Form 5500 – 6 years

In the unfortunate event that you are facing litigation or an audit, you need to be able to pull any and all necessary files right away. Proper record keeping can save your company lots of money and help you to avoid all sorts of headaches. Save your HR documents for as long as your company deems necessary because a paper trail can get you out of hot water.

In reality, record keeping is quite complicated. It’s your job to work with your legal and management teams to create a document policy. This policy will outline what needs to be kept, length of time, destruction method, file location, and other parameters. Include your document policy in your onboarding and employee handbooks so that every employee is on the same page.

Keep your documents organized and don’t shred anything yet.

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