How long do I have to keep HR records? From the Archive

by Michael Haberman on February 19, 2018 · 1 comment

For the entirety of consulting I have gotten the question of how long records need to be kept. Since I got that question again last week I thought I would republish this post. 

Purging files should be done on a regular basis.

Purging files should be done on a regular basis.

In my work, I spend time looking at the personnel files for many companies. Some of these files take up large amounts of space and with many companies, there are file cabinets that hold years and years and years of files. I tell people they don’t need to keep personnel files forever. Naturally, that leads to the logical question of “how long do I have to keep HR records?”

It depends

Because there are many different requirements for retention, depending upon with which law you are complying, the answer to that question is “it depends.” For example under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Fact Sheet #21 indicates some records must be kept either 2 or 3 years. It says:

Each employer shall preserve for at least three years payroll records, collective bargaining agreements, sales and purchase records. Records on which wage computations are based should be retained for two years, i.e., time cards and piece work tickets, wage rate tables, work and time schedules, and records of additions to or deductions from wages.

For I-9s the requirement for retention is three (3) years or one (1) year after the employee’s termination, whichever is greater.

For OSHA records the retention period may go from 5 years for the OSHA 300 log to 30 years for the records of exposure to cancer-causing agents.

So as you can see there is no one set time frame.

Purging Policy

The unfortunate result of there being no one certain answer is that HR departments have a tendency to keep everything forever. Often with the thought in mind “what if we need this in the future?” The approach also ends up covering everything else that gets stuck in the personnel file. Things like the doctor’s excuse from 15 years ago, the tardy slip from 10 years ago, the performance appraisal from 20 years ago, etc. It is unnecessary to keep this amount of paperwork for that time.

Files need to be purged. But you want to make sure you do it consistently and regularly. My suggestion is to have a six (6) year threshold. With the exceptions noted below go through your files once a year and toss everything that has been there for six years or longer. The first time you do this it will be a lot of work, but after that, you will have less work to do. Create a policy if you want that states that all files are purged of materials that are greater than six years in age and then stick to it. By the way, this works for electronic files as well.


As I mentioned above, there are some exceptions to this purging policy. These include:

  • I-9s. They must be kept 1 year beyond the employment of the employee if they have been employed longer than three years. So if the employee is a 10-year employee you will still have that record. Note, however, that as soon as you can purge this form from your files you need to do so. Old I-9s that are incorrect will still get you fined even if the employee is no longer around.
  • OSHA exposure records. The six-year timeframe will cover the 5 years that the OSHA 300 logs have to be kept, but it does not cover the 30 years that exposure records must be kept. If the company is going to go out of business before the 30 years the employee must be contacted 3 months prior to the closing and offered access to those records. If there is a successor business the records must be transferred to it.
  • Litigation. If the company is involved in litigation with any employee or set of employees the records of those employees must be preserved until AFTER the litigation has been settled. “Accidently” deleting or throwing away records may result in unfavorable findings by the judge or jury.

A final note

When you are purging your records remember not to just throw this stuff in the trash. There is too much protected and confidential information involved. You would think this would be commonsense yet every year there is a story of records being found in a dumpster. So make sure the person assigned this duty is aware of their responsibility.

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Future Friday: Merging AI and workers

by Michael Haberman on February 16, 2018 · 0 comments

We need to be prepared to work in concert with developing AI.

For those of you that are frightened by the prospect of a robotic future, where your job, even your life has been taken over by artificial intelligence you can relax. The prevailing point of view today is not a take over of human jobs by artificial intelligence, but an augmentation of human work by teaming up with AI. Super-entrepreneur Elon Musk has said it is essential for humans to team with AI and has even started a company, Neuralink, to investigate the technology necessary to make the merging possible.

Of course, Musk suggests a physical connection between AI and people but not everyone is going to be thrilled to have a device implanted in order to make them smarter. So others suggest that AI be designed to work in concert with humans, taking away the mundane tasks allowing humans to concentrate on the more human aspects of their jobs, such as empathy.

The biggest task that HR professionals have today is to determine which jobs in the organization can benefit the most from being connected to AI and to start preparing those workers for that eventuality.

Are you ready?


Reducing flu at work is a matter of business continuity

by Michael Haberman on February 15, 2018 · 0 comments

We still have many weeks of the flu season yet to come. Take precautions.

As I have been watching the news daily I hear reports of yet another death caused by the flu. It seems to have a very detrimental effect on students. However, even when it doesn’t cause a death, it can be debilitating to a workplace, especially a small business, where staffing is sparse and absolutely every person is needed. The news reports indicate the flu is still going strong and will continue to near the end of March. What can you do to protect yourself, your employees, their children, and your business?

OSHA advice

OSHA is often who employers turn to for advice on safety, and flu in the workplace is indeed a safety issue. Here is the advice that OSHA has published.

Get vaccinated!

Vaccination is the most important way to prevent the spread of the flu. For additional information about seasonal flu vaccine priorities, see Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine.

Stay at home if you are sick.

CDC recommends that workers who have a fever and respiratory symptoms stay at home until 24 hours after their fever ends (100 degrees Fahrenheit [37.8 degrees Celsius] or lower), without the use of medication. Not everyone who has the flu will have a fever. Other symptoms could include a runny nose, body aches, headache, tiredness, diarrhea, or vomiting. Note that CDC has special instructions for workers returning to work in areas with patients whose immune systems are severely weakened.

Cleanliness is important

  • Keep frequently touched common surfaces (e.g., telephones, computer equipment, etc.) clean.
  • Try not to use a coworker’s phone, desk, office, computer, or other work tools and equipment. If you must use a coworker’s equipment, consider cleaning it first with a disinfectant.

Stay in shape.

Eat a healthy diet. Get plenty of rest, exercise, and relaxation.

Talk about alternative work arrangements

  • If you are in a high-risk category for flu complications (e.g., pregnant women, persons with asthma, etc.) talk with your employer about alternative work assignments.
  • Participate in all training offered by your employer. Make sure that you understand your exposure risk, your facility’s policies and procedures for isolation precautions, use of workplace controls, work practices, and PPE protection during aerosol-generating procedures, and potential complications of the flu.

My additional advice

Employers, you may want to consider providing some additional paid sick time for people who are genuinely ill with the flu. Keep them home! The cost savings from avoiding them infecting other workers will more than offset the amount you are paying to keep them out of the workplace. You need to reinforce the prohibition of them coming to work sick. Having multiple workers out sick at one time can set back work and delay projects and customer satisfaction.


Perhaps my view is “Pollyannaish”

This post is not exactly about Valentine’s Day, nor is it specifically about harassment, as you will discover as you read further. It is more about the profession of HR. This post is a repeat of one I wrote last year at this time. However, today is a good time to be aware, especially in light of #MeToo. As an article in the Chicago Tribune said, these are difficult times for employers. You may want to follow the advice of Rebecca B. Canary-King, who wrote Love is in the Air? Practical Tips for Dealing with Workplace Relationships.  This post, however, is more about a response to a plaintiff attorney’s view of HR. I hope you find that interesting as well.

On Valentine’s Day, of all days, I wrote a blog post called Who do you report harassment to if the harasser is the CEO? That post sparked some interesting responses for a couple of reasons. The most notable response came from, Chris McKinney, a Texas attorney who represents employees in EEO cases. He paid me a compliment when he said:

It is a thoughtful article and it makes the excellent point that HR for every company needs to bake into their policies a method by which an employee can internally report sexual harassment being committed by the CEO or owner of a company without risk of retaliation. I think that is an excellent goal to strive for and I hope that all HR departments set that as a goal.  There is only one problem with the premise of the article….The effort will almost certainly fail.”

Differing points of view

I respect Mr. McKinney’s point of view, but he has a view of HR that I don’t ascribe to. He says that the reason HR will fail in helping employees with claims of harassment is that “HR serves two masters. On the one hand, HR is designed to serve as a helpful ombudsman to employees. To assist employees who are being mistreated. To conduct thorough investigations and correct inappropriate behavior against employees. On the other hand, HR is required to defend management against accusations of unlawful employment practices.” I disagree. HR has only one master if you will, and that is the company. Some companies have Ombudsmen, but that is not the stated role of HR. It is the mistaken role of HR. That is why I tell my clients and my students that they have to be upfront with people if anyone comes to them with information that can damage the company, and they wish that information to be kept confidential. An ethical and effective HR professional cannot make that claim.

“Sometimes that means that management has to be exposed and gotten rid of in the process.”

McKinney also says that HR has to defend management. There I also have to disagree. HR has to defend the company from damage. Sometimes that means that management has to be exposed and gotten rid of in the process. No individual should be allowed, regardless of position, to destroy the enterprise that supports so many lives. Their behavior needs to be corrected or they need to be gone, even the CEO.

“HR is, in my opinion, possibly the most challenging role”


McKinney is correct when he says “HR is, in my opinion, possibly the most challenging role for any manager to do and do well.” I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. HR is underappreciated in many, many organizations. Pressures are put on the HR professional from both sides. Employees provide numerous challenges when they have expectations that HR is their champion. Management provides challenges when they use the power of their position to force the HR professional to do something they know is ethically, and perhaps, morally wrong. HR professionals get put in ethical dilemmas that sometimes results in sliding ethics. The poor single mother HR manager who is being forced to choose between her job and her ethics gets my sympathy when her ethics slide for the moment. It is tough to face the prospect of losing a job and not putting food on the table versus letting a manager get away with some harassment just this one time.

Issue of Trust

“I have known some HR people who were not trustworthy”

There are posts all the time about not being able to “trust HR.” Employees are encouraged by other employees not to go to HR because you cannot “trust” them. These are the people that Mr. McKinney represents and they need him. I will be the first to admit the quality of HR people runs the gamut. I have known some HR people who were not trustworthy because they had their priorities in the wrong places. I have known some HR people who talked behind others backs; cheated on their expense reports; had affairs with employees and more. But those are individuals, not the profession. I have known people who made mistakes out of ignorance and others that made mistakes intentionally as a form of revenge. But these people are the minority. The rest of HR does good work in an often tough situation.

My view of HR

“a business manager whose role is HR”

The role of the HR professional, in my opinion, is to make sure the company (organization) is successful as it can be, by having the best employees it can have, with the best management team possible, where everyone is treated fairly and ethically. Everyone has an accountability to make the company successful, and those that do not contribute to that effort need to have their “feet held to the fire” regardless of position within the company. I don’t view myself as an HR manager; I view myself as a business manager whose role is HR. I take that role seriously.

This may be a “Pollyannaish” view. My friend Steve Browne always exhorts HR professionals to be positive about HR.  I think the best way to do that is to approach HR in this manner. Sometimes that requires that you call out managers for harassment. Sometimes it may require you report the CEO’s behavior to the EEOC. Sometimes it requires you to terminate poor performers of all ilk.

It is not an easy job, but it can be a rewarding one.


Ten Human Resources Steps that WILL save you!

by Michael Haberman February 13, 2018

Tweet As I was teaching my HR certification class on Saturday we talked about the issue of how HR is to respond to an employee revealing information about actions that could be damaging to the company, but then asking HR to keep it confidential. Of course, HR cannot do that. They have an obligation to […]

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From the archive: Paying Employees During Bad Weather Closings

by Michael Haberman February 12, 2018

Tweet A friend of mine posted a picture of the empty parking lot of his place of business, after a snowstorm. Since we still have at least another month of winter, I thought it might be helpful to repost this about paying employees for bad weather closings. As [winter continues] the chances for snow and […]

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Future Friday: The Workflex in the 21st Century Act

by Michael Haberman February 9, 2018

Tweet Yesterday I participated in a #NextChat for SHRM that was hosted by the legislative team of SHRM. We talked about a lot of issues, and believe me, there are a lot of issues that HR pros think should be addressed with Congress. One of the areas discussed is the WorkFlex in the 21st Century […]

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The Workflex in the 21st Century Act: Workflex Options

by Michael Haberman February 8, 2018

Tweet Yesterday I covered the compensable time options of the Workflex Act, in other words, the paid time off option. However, the Act is more than just a PTO program, it also includes, in fact, requires, options to have employees have the ability to have some flexibility in their work schedules. Possible options All employers […]

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The Workflex in the 21st Century Act: Compensable Leave Requirement

by Michael Haberman February 7, 2018

Tweet As promised in my blog post yesterday, here are the details about the compensable leave requirements under the Workflex in the 21st Century Act. Yesterday I wrote about the fact that companies that wish to be covered by this act must have a Qualified  Flexible Workplace Arrangement  (QFWA) plan under ERISA. To be qualified […]

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The Workflex in the 21st Century Act: Some of the details

by Michael Haberman February 6, 2018

Tweet On January 30th I wrote What is the Workflex in the 21st Century Act? as an introduction to a bill in the House of Representatives that the Society for Human Resources Management  (SHRM) is supporting. I think is certainly worthy of consideration by employers. If you have not read my overview of the bill […]

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