The Personnel File: Retention & Best Practices

Every state agency and local government creates and maintains employee records.  Often maintained in individual files for each employee, the personnel file is added to regularly throughout its active life, and it may often be consulted during its long inactive life.  We create and use personnel records to hire, re-hire, train, evaluate, compensate, address grievances, and provide verifications for all employees.

So here comes the oft-asked question: how long do you keep personnel files?  This is a great example (one of many!) of a simple records management question that does not come with an easy answer.

The complicating factor for employee records is that both Local Government Schedule GR and the State Records Retention Schedule list multiple records series that can be classified as personnel records (located in Part 3 of each schedule).  Most Human Resources departments maintain single personnel files for individual employees, and these files can contain potentially dozens of different records, all with conflicting retention periods.  There is no single record series for the all-encompassing “personnel file.”

Depending on how your HR department organizes its records, employee records may be stored all together, in multiple locations/departments, or in different formats.  Consequently, there is no one correct way to maintain personnel files, but there are many options available to you when it comes to assigning a retention period (or more than one) that complies with Texas state law, and keeping your records accessible.  We’ll look at some of those options below.

First, let’s lay out all the records series on the general schedules that can possibly be included in an employee’s personnel record. (Payroll records are not included – for the sake of brevity – but some payroll information could end up in employees’ individual folders, depending on your agency).

Record Series Commonly Found in Personnel Files

State Records Retention Schedule

Title Code Trigger
Event
Retention
Applications for Employment – Hired 3.1.001Termination5 Years
Employee Counseling Records 3.1.006 Event Term 3 Years
Employee Benefits3.1.011 TerminationImmediate
Employment Contracts 3.1.013 Event Term 7 Years
Employment Selection Records3.1.014X 2 Years
Grievance Records 3.1.018 Event Term 2 Years
Performance Appraisals3.1.019X2 Years
Personnel Corrective Action Documentation 3.1.020 Event Term 5 Years
Personnel Disciplinary Action Documentation 3.1.021 Termination 5 Years
Personnel Information or Action Forms3.1.022 X 2 Years
Position/Job Descriptions 3.1.023 US 4 years
Physical Examinations/Medical Reports3.1.024Termination2 Years
Criminal History Checks3.1.026AVImmediate
Training and Educational Achievement Records (Individual) 3.1.027Termination5 Years
Employee Benefits – Other than Insurance3.1.031Termination2 Years
Performance Bonds3.1.035Event Term7 Years
Apprenticeship Records3.1.036X5 Years
Employee Recognition Records3.1.037Termination5 Years
Public Access Option Form3.1.038Termination75 Years
Ombudsman Records3.1.039Event TermImmediate
Former Employee Verification Records3.3.011Termination75 Years
Work Schedules/Assignments3.3.020X AV
Reimbursable Activities, Requests and Authorizations to Engage in 3.3.023 X 3 Years
Aptitude and Skills Tests (Test Papers) 3.3.028 X 2 Years
Hazardous Materials Training Records 5.4.007 X 5 Years
Calendars, Appointment and Itinerary Records 1.1.013 X 1 Year
Employment Eligibility, Documentation or Verification of 3.1.029X
or Termination
3 Years
1 Year

Italics = Optional Record
X = No Trigger Date Other Than Record Creation
Note: If there are multiple retention options for a given series, the longest possible retention period was selected.

Local Government Retention Schedule GR

Title Code Trigger Event Retention
Aptitude and Skills Test Records GR1050-02c X 2 Years
Awards and Commendations GR1050-03 Termination 5 Years
Certificates and Licenses GR1050-04 Termination 5 Years
Counseling Program Records GR1050-06a Event Term 3 Years
Disciplinary and Adverse Action Records GR1050-07 Event Term 2 Years
Employee Pension Records GR1050-08b(2)(A) Termination 75 Years
Employee Security Records GR1050-10a Termination 2 Years
Employee Security Records GR1050-10b US/Termination Immediate
Employee Selection Records GR1050-11 X 2 Years
Employee Service Records GR1050-12 Termination 75 Years
Employment Applications GR1050-14a X 2 Years
Employment Applications (Transcripts) GR1050-14c Termination 5 Years
Employment Contract/Collective Bargaining Records GR1050-15a Event Term 4 Years
Equal Employment Opportunity Records and Reports GR1050-16c Event Term 3 Years
Fidelity Bonds GR1050-18 Event Term 5 Years
Fingerprint Cards GR1050-19 Termination 5 Years
Grievance Records GR1050-20 Event Term 2 Years
Job Evaluations GR1050-21 Termination 2 Years
Medical and Exposure Reports GR1050-22b Termination 30 Years
Personnel Action or Information Notices GR1050-24 X 2 Years
Position Descriptions GR1050-26a US 4 Years
Training and Educational Achievement Records GR1050-28a Termination 5 Years
Unemployment Compensation Claims Records GR1050-29 Event Term 5 Years
Work Schedules GR1050-31 X 1 Year
Workers Compensation Claim Records GR1050-32b Event Term 50 Years
Financial Disclosure Statements GR1050-33 Termination 2 Years
Public Access Option Forms GR1050-34 Termination 75 Years
Employee Exit Interviews GR1050-35 Termination 2 Years
Criminal History Checks GR1050-36 AV Immediate
Employee Acknowledgement Forms GR1050-37 Termination 2 Years
Applications for Permanent Employment Certification (Eta Form 9089) GR1050-40 X 5 Years
Outside/Secondary Employment Authorizations GR1050-41 Termination 2 Years
License and Driving Record Checks GR1050-42 Termination Immediate
Vehicle or Equipment Assignment Records GR1075-21 Event Term 2 Years
Hazardous Materials Training Records GR5750-04 X 5 Years
Calendars, Appointment and Itinerary Records GR1000-45 X 1 Year
Verifications of Employment Eligibility (Form I-9) GR1050-30 X
or Termination
3 Years
1 Year

Italics = Optional Record
X = No Trigger Date Other Than Record Creation
Note: If there are multiple retention options for a given series, the longest possible retention period was selected.

We can see that some records will apply to all employees, and some will not.  Some records (for example, Grievance Records or Employee Recognition Records) can be included in all employees’ files, but they might not, depending on an employee’s individual performance or achievements.  Retention periods are all across the board, and the trigger event (employee termination, end of calendar year, etc.) for each series is highly variable.

So how does an RMO reconcile all these different retention periods and trigger events, in a way that makes disposition simple and efficient?  Let’s take a look at some of our options….


Multiple Retention Periods

Endgame: All personnel records are classified into distinct record series and dispositioned as soon as their retention periods are met.

If your agency maintains many of these record series in multiple locations and/or does not utilize a consolidated personnel file, then adhering exactly to the minimum retention period for each series may be the best option for you.  Additionally, if you are using a Human Resources Information System (HRIS) or other kind of Content Management System to maintain all these records electronically, all your records can be easily auto-classified into the correct series.

RMOs should work with HR departments to ensure that each element of the employee file is being maintained and dispositioned consistently.  This can be accomplished by utilizing a pre-determined file structure, which can take the form of a file tree.  The file tree should indicate each personnel record series maintained by the agency, as well as the associated retention period and location of the record.

If we use the chart of common personnel records maintained by local governments as an example, and we eliminate some of the optional records, the file tree might look something like this:

The file structure can also indicate which records are required to be maintained, and which are optional.  This may be different for supervisors, subordinates, or specialized job positions.

When it comes time for annual destruction, staff will need to go over every record series for each employee to determine if the retention period for any of the records has been met.  Using this method, personnel files need to be revisited every year during active use, as well as at least every year after employee termination for the first 5 years.  The advantage of dispositioning these records often is that it creates more free storage space.

Pros: Most efficient use of storage space; No risk of over-retention

Cons: Most frequent disposition work; More classification work up-front


Bucketing – Fewer Retention Periods

Endgame: Personnel files are bucketed into a manageable number of subfolders with different retention periods.

If it seems like too much work to keep track of all the different retention periods for every single record series, then “bucketing” may work for you.  Organizing active personnel records by individual record series may not be feasible in your office due to lack of filing staff or resources.  Bucketing involves grouping together record series with similar functions and retention periods, and then dispositioning them as one giant record series.  As long as the minimum retention requirements are being met, then larger buckets are a great way to consolidate the myriad record series in a personnel file.  A more in-depth look at the advantage and disadvantages of big buckets can be found in this previous blog post.

Using the same file tree from the example above, we can see that grouping similar record series together makes the structure of the personnel file a lot simpler and more streamlined.  In this example, the minimum information required for the Employee Service Record is expanded to include a few additional record series that have retentions of 75 years or less.

This is only one possible way to bucket personnel files.  Depending on how and where your personnel records are stored, you can choose to group files based on their trigger events (e.g. all record series whose retention periods begin at employee termination will be retained for the longest retention period of 75 years) or comparable retention periods or any other logical sorting method.  Utilizing big buckets allows staff to spend less time separating out records ready for disposition.  However, because all record series in a bucket are destroyed at the same time, records with shorter retention periods may be retained longer than necessary.

It is also a good idea to make sure your short-term records are not being placed in buckets with retentions longer than 10 years.  The enhanced electronic storage record requirements in Bulletin B kick in at the 10-year mark for local governments; for both local and state agencies, storage costs and potential information loss increase greatly every year records are being over-retained.

Pros:  Saves on storage space; Less risk of over-retention

Cons:  Moderate disposition work required; Moderate classification work up-front


Single Retention Period

Endgame: All personnel records are maintained in a single file for 75+ years.

Finally, the method that requires the least amount of classification and dispositioning effort involves assigning a single retention period to the entire personnel file – the Biggest Bucket, if you will.

Keep in mind that if two or more records listed in the schedule are maintained together and are not severable, the combined record must be retained for the length of time of the component with the longest retention period.  The longest retention period of any personnel record series on both the State and Local Government schedules is: Date of Employee Termination + 75 Years.

Keeping all personnel records for 75 years after employee termination is an option that satisfies all minimum retention periods with minimal effort, but the decision must be weighed carefully against your agency’s appetite for risk; over-retaining records can increase storage costs, increase retrieval times for requests, and increased liability in the event of any legal discovery.  Additionally, carefully consider which types of employee records contain confidential or personally identifiable information (PII).  Is minimal disposition effort worth the risk of storing and protecting sensitive information longer than absolutely necessary?

But wait! There is one neat trick…

The state record series “Former Employee Verification Records [3.3.011]” and the local government record series “Employee Service Records [GR1050-12]” provide definitions for the basic information required to be maintained in a summary sheet for each employee post-termination:

  • Employee name
  • Employee sex
  • Date of birth
  • Social security number
  • Positions held with dates of hire, promotion, transfer, or demotion
  • Dates of leaves of absence or suspension that affect computation of length of service
  • Wage or salary rate for each position held, including step or merit increases within grades
  • Most recent public access option form
  • Date of separation

If you can create a summary sheet which contains all of the above information required to be maintained for 75 years, your agency can simply maintain this single record in lieu of the multiple records that may contain this information.

Pros: Less disposition work required; Less classification effort

Cons: Most risk of over-retention; Takes up most storage space (unless a summary sheet is maintained instead)


Based on your office’s needs and available resources, RMOs can mix and match elements of each method to create a hybrid solution. For example, it may be most feasible to combine the single retention period method with the multiple retention period option; keep all record series whose retention periods are triggered by employee termination for 75 years, but still follow the relatively shorter retention periods for all event-driven or calendar-year retentions.

A consistent and logical filing system is the key to how personnel files are organized and how disposition is managed.  Development of a personnel filing and disposition plan is a great opportunity for RMOs to stay involved with agency recordkeeping at all stages of the records lifecycle, not just at disposition.  Work with all departments to weigh the pros and cons of each method and develop a centralized filing plan for personnel files that works best for your agency.

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