Tips for Organizing Records
Spending a few minutes looking for reviews or forms doesn’t seem like much in the moment, but over time, it adds up: If you spend 10 minutes every week looking for a misplaced vacation request, those 10 minutes amount to more than eight hours per year. By implementing an efficient recordkeeping and organization system, you can gain back a lot of those working hours. These tips can help you get started:
- Throw out what you can.
- Instead of just adding paperwork to files and folders, start looking for paperwork to remove. Not all forms need to be kept for forever, even if they relate to personnel records. I-9 forms, for example, only need to be kept for three years after an employee is hired or one year after employment ends, whichever is later. Make sure you know exactly what forms you have to keep and for how long.
- Switch to digital.
- It’s fine if you want to stick with some paper records, but be aware the world is moving toward going entirely paperless. Switching to electronic files will certainly help clear up the clutter in your office. Once everything is on your computer’s desktop or saved to your hard drive, you won’t have to deal with messy desks or overflowing filing cabinets.
- Experiment with different strategies.
- Finding the best way to classify and organize paperwork takes time, so you need to analyze your needs. If you’re a small, single-site business, it might be easiest to manage files by individual employees or by form type, like storing I-9 forms for all employees together. If your company is larger or has multiple locations, it may make more sense to break it down by department or office location instead.
- Consistency is key.
- Regardless of whether you use paper or digital files, consistency is the key to efficient, effective recordkeeping. Once you find the right organizational structure for your company’s recordkeeping, make sure all paperwork is handled in a similar manner. For example, if your hiring forms are sorted by department, don’t start filing health forms by employee names. Keep the same system across all types of records.
- Use folders and labels.
- Every piece of paper you handle should be stored in a labeled folder, even if it’s a folder called Random Forms. Folders prevent these papers from getting lost in the shuffle or crammed into a corner of your filing cabinet. Labeled folders help you save valuable time searching for forms, too. For electronic files, make sure your file folders have accurate, consistent names.
- Don’t save it for later.
- Put off enough paperwork and it’ll start to pile up – literally. Once you have stacks of paper on your desk, it can be difficult to remember what you have to do or where you placed papers. Although you can’t necessarily take a break every time someone hands you paperwork, you should take care of it in some way, whether it’s setting up a specific inbox for paperwork or scheduling 30 minutes at the end of every day for recordkeeping tasks. Make time for these things every single day, and you’ll gain five minutes here or ten minutes there – which adds up over the course of a week.
Recordkeeping Time Limits
While the phrase “When in doubt, throw it out” is popular, most HR departments do the exact opposite: keep everything forever, just in case. Unfortunately, this can lead to a recordkeeping mess. Even if you’re diligent about cleaning out your records, there are probably some papers you’re holding on to that aren’t necessary.
Hiring involves a lot of paperwork, and there are a lot of regulations that specify how long these forms must be kept.
- Resumes and job applications, even for individuals you don’t hire, must be held for up to two years. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act stipulate that you keep these forms for one year; however, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act indicates that for applicants over 40, applications and resumes must be kept for two years. It may be easier to just maintain these files for two years for all applicants and employees. Should an employee or applicant bring a discrimination charge against your business, you must retain these files until a resolution or decision has been reached, even if it’s been over two years.
- I-9 forms, used to verify employment eligibility in the U.S., must be kept for three years after an employee’s hire date, or one year after the date his or her employment ends, whichever is later.
- W-4s need to be saved for at least four years after the date taxes were due or paid. This is based on federal guidelines under the Social Security Act and the IRS, but your state’s laws may vary. Minnesota, for example, requires employers to retain W-4 forms for up to eight years after the date taxes were due or paid. Meanwhile, Nevada has no state retention period. Check your local laws before disposing of any papers.
- W-9s for vendors or contractors should be saved for three years from the due date of the return. If backup withholding applies, then records must be kept for four years instead.
- Proof of business expenses – for example, receipts documenting regular expenses or travel reimbursements – should also be held onto for three years.
- Payroll records for nonexempt employees should be saved for three years, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). These kinds of records include employer copies of pay stubs, proof of overtime wages paid and payroll deductions. Again, state records may vary, so make sure you check your local laws.
- Employee benefit plan records – such as pension or insurance plans – need to be kept for the full period the plan is in effect and for at least one year after its termination.
- Personnel records related to wages must be stored for two years, per FLSA requirements. Performance reviews or work schedules, for example, should be kept under these requirements, in case you’re called upon to justify a salary.
- All employment records must be maintained for one year from the employee’s termination date. This is a requirement from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If any employee brings EEOC charges against you, you’ll need access to these files until a resolution or decision has been reached.
- Family and Medical Leave Act paperwork and related information must be saved for at least three years. This includes dates of absence, doctors’ notes and medical certification.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to keep records on employees who become injured or ill due to the job for at least five years, although, depending upon the circumstances, OSHA paperwork may need to be kept for up to 30 years.