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To shred, or not to shred?

While getting closer, we are not quite a paperless society yet. As such, employers are faced with decision of what to do with employee records. What should you keep? How long should you keep it? Where should the records be kept?

For simplicity and practicality's sake, many employers keep the bulk of an employee's personnel file and other records for the duration of employment plus an additional four years. This covers most records, with a few exceptions (pension and welfare documents must be kept for six years; records of job injuries should be kept for five years; and safety and toxic/chemical exposure records must be kept for 30 years).

What about electronic data like emails or other business records, not part of a personnel file? A good idea is to implement policies that describe how long these records will be kept and at what schedule they will be deleted. As outlined above, a good rule of thumb is to keep these records for the duration of employment plus four years.

Employment records should be kept in individual personnel files, restricting access to the files as they usually contain private and/or sensitive information. The ideal place for such records is a locked cabinet with access by one person or department from whom authorization must be sought before others can view the files.

When the time arrives for disposing of old records, make sure it's done the right way. Documents containing personal information (Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, etc.) must be shredded. If this information is stored digitally, the hard drives must be destroyed before disposing of them (a good old hammer does the trick). If computers or servers are sold, the data must be deleted in a way that makes it unrecoverable.

We live in a world where the accumulation of documents and data, electronic and otherwise, is accelerating. Electronic storage of employment records has reduced some headaches, but created others. Safeguarding employee information and complying with the rules and regulations regarding employment documents is worth whatever effort it takes.

This article is for education and information purposes only; it should not be construed as legal advice. If you have an employment law question for inclusion in a future article, contact Brett T. Abbott at Gubler & Abbott LLP (bta@thecalifornialawyers.com). For specific employment law advice or other legal assistance, contact Gubler & Abbott LLP, (559) 625-9600, 1110 N. Chinowith St., Visalia, CA 93291 ( www.thecalifornialawyers.com).

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