GENERAL PRINCIPALS OF EMPLOYEE RECORDKEEPING
D. Wesley Newhouse
Newhouse, Prophater, Kolman & Hogan, LLC
Tel: (614) 255-5441
I. SOURCES OF LAW REQUIRING RECORDKEEPING.
A. Federal Law.
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), 42
USC Sections 1320 et. seq. This statute addresses the making,
keeping and privacy of protected health information. The act
applies indirectly to employers.
- Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 USC Section 1681 et. seq.
This statute requires that employers who employ outside agencies
to obtain background information on employees and applicants
restrict access to and use of the information, provide employees
and applicants with notice of their rights, and dispose of
background reports in a manner that prevents identity theft.
- Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 USC Sections 201 et. seq.
This statute imposes minimum wage and overtime requirements,
and requires that employers keep payroll records.
- Portal to Portal Act, 29 USC Sections 251 et. seq. This act
addresses payment of workers for time spent in transit to the job.
- National Labor Relations Act, 29 USC Sections 151 et. seq. This
act addresses the right of employees to join unions and otherwise
act collectively, and defines unfair labor practices by employers,
employees and unions.
- Labor Management Relations Act, 29 USC Sections 401 et. seq.,
especially Section 433. This addresses reporting regarding
payments made by employers to labor unions and employees
regarding union-related activities.
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 USC Section 621, et.
seq., especially Section 626.
- Occupational Safety and Health Act, 29 USC Section 651 et. seq.,
especially Section 657. Prohibits age discrimination in
- Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 USC Sections 1001
et. seq., especially Section 1027. Regulates employee benefit
- Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 USC Sections 2000e, especially
2000e(8). Prohibits discrimination in employment based on race,
color, national origin, religion and sex.
- Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 USC Section 2601 et. seq.
Requires that certain employers make available to certain
employees unpaid leave for serious health conditions.
B. State Law.
- Worker’s Compensation Recordkeeping Requirements, ORC
Sections 4123.22 through .28.
- Employment of Minors, ORC Section 4109.11.
- Minimum Wage, ORC Section 4111.08.
- Occupation Safety and Health for State and Municipal
Government Employees, ORC Section 4167.11.
- Blood-borne Pathogen Recordkeeping for State and Muncipal
Employers, ORC Section 2167.28.
II. SECURITY OF RECORDS.
A. Protection from Damage or Loss.
- Get Organized. Before you can protect a record, you have to know
where it is and who is responsible for it. This may be as simple as
developing a list of the files with a notation of who has physical
possession of it, or it may involve complicated bar code systems
which track the whereabouts of all records at all times.
- Centralize. It is easier to keep a record safe if it is kept in a
known, controlled environment.
- Duplicate. With scanning technology and various methods of
electronic storage of records, there really is no excuse for not
duplicating important records which must be kept.
- Off-site Storage. With the ease of electronic duplication of records
comes greater ease in maintaining a duplicate set of records off-site
in a secure location for reconstruction of records in the event of
- Security. Records stored on-site and off-site need to be secured by
locking them up and identifying who may have access. For
electronic records, this may include encryption, pass word
protection, the use of firewalls, and other security methods.
- Information Security Program. The Federal Trade Commission
adopted rules for the security of information for customers of
financial institutions which serve as a good model for employers.
See 16 CFR Section 314. The rules require the adoption of a
security program with the following elements:
- The program is in writing and is readily accessible.
- The plan designates an employee or employees who are
responsible for coordination of the program.
- The record keeper performs an assessment of internal and
external risks to the confidentiality of records.
- The record keeper provides training to employees
concerning security issues.
- Information systems include intrusion detection and
- The record keeper regularly monitors and tests the security
- The record keeper takes reasonable measures to oversee the
work of service providers by exercising due diligence in
their selection, requiring them to implement appropriate
security programs, and monitoring their security efforts.
- Record Disposal. The FTC adopted regulations in June of 2005
addressing the disposal of consumer report records which state best
practices for disposal of sensitive information generally. See 16
CFR Part 682. Those regulations state that the keeper of records
should do the following when disposing of the records:
- Burn, pulverize or shred paper reports so that the
information cannot be read or reconstructed;
- Destroy or erase data stored electronically so that the data
cannot be reconstructed;
- c. Delegate these functions to a qualified contractor after
exercising due diligence in selecting the contractor.
III. RECORDS THAT SHOULD BE STORED SEPARATELY.
A. Records that Contain Medical and Health Information.
- Pre-employment drug screen results.
- Post-employment physical examination results.
- Health insurance claim information.
- Employee requests for leave and resultant medical reports.
- Releases from physicians to return to work.
- Worker’s compensation medical records.
- Information detailing disabilities.
- Health and life insurance application information.
- OSHA supplemental incident reports.
B. Protected Consumer Information.
- Consumer Reports. The Fair Credit Reporting Act and the FTC
regulations implementing it make virtually any background
information gathered for an employer by a third party protected
consumer information. The Act and regulations require that the
employer limit access to and use of the information, and requires
that the employee who is the subject of the report consent in
writing to its release.
- Identifying Information. With well-publicized incidents of data
theft, employers are well-advised to take measures to separate
social security numbers and dates of birth from other records.
When employees identify beneficiaries in life and disability
insurance policies, or when they include family members in health
insurance programs, they sometimes provide identifying
information about their family members. This should also be
- Employee Financial Transactions. Some employers lend money
directly to employees, and some allow employees to borrow from
retirement savings accounts. Employees would reasonably expect
that information about this will not be generally available.
IV. ACCESS TO RECORDS BY EMPLOYEES AND OTHERS.
A. General Personnel Records.
Ohio does not have a law which requires an employer generally to allow
an employee to have access to a personnel file. Other states do have such
laws. Most employers will allow employees to have reasonable access to
such records, with limits on frequency, time, place and manner of access.
Note that Ohio’s Public Records Law, ORC Section 149.43, makes
general personnel records of public employees accessible to the public.
B. Medical Information.
OSHA recordkeeping requirement require that employees be given access
to toxic substance exposure and related medical testing information.
Employers must also allow employees to see logs of accidents and injuries
and supplemental incident reports that address their own injuries and
OSHA regulations and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability
Act (HIPAA), require that employers limit access of third parties to
medical records, and generally require that such information be released
only upon written authorization of the employee.
C. Review of Information by Government Agencies.
In most circumstances, the government agency charged with enforcing the
statute which requires the keeping of a record has the right to see the
record. For example, OSHA has a right to see the incident log that OSHA
regulations require the employer to keep. There are some general
considerations for the employer in this circumstance:
- Scope of the Inquiry. When an enforcement agency conducts an
investigation to enforce a specific statute, the agency should
restrict its inquiry to the records pertinent to that law and that
investigation. An OSHA inspector, for example, should have no
interest in and should not inquire about a background check
conducted as part of the process of hiring an employee. Each
regulatory agency has its own set of regulations governing the
scope of record requests and the protection of the privacy of those
whose records are reviewed.
- Subpoena Power. Regulatory agencies have the ability to go to
court to get subpoenas to compel an employer to produce records.
The same laws that permit this also protect the employer and
employee from unreasonable intrusions by allowing interested
parties to ask the court to void or narrow the scope of the request
- Trade Secret Information. The regulations authorizing agencies to
obtain records usually include provision for the protection and
non-disclosure of trade secret information. For example, there are
detailed regulations addressing the disclosure of trade secret
information in Material Safety Data Sheets, and the provision of
such information to medical care providers for employees injured
by toxic substances.
V. RETENTION AND DISPOSAL GUIDELINES.
A. General Retention Guidelines.
- Medical Records. Duration of tenure, and then 2 years after
termination of employment, except records of toxic substance
exposure, which must be kept for the duration of employment plus
30 years. Records of occupational injuries or illnesses not arising
from toxic substance exposure are to be kept for the duration of
employment plus 5 years.
- Recruitment and Selection Records. These must be kept for one
year from the date of the opening of the position.
- FMLA Leave Records. These should be kept for a period of 7
years while the employee is in active employment. If an employee
has left employment, the records should be retained for 3 years
after the date of termination.
- Payroll Records. Three years from the last date of entry for the
B. Disposal Guidelines.
See preceding discussion of best practices for the disposal of records in a
manner intended to minimize data theft.
VI. REQUIRED vs. RECOMMENDED EMPLOYMENT RECORDS.
A. Why Do We Keep These?
If you cannot answer this question in respect to any given record, you need
to do the following:
- Investigate the Law. You might keep a record because the law
requires it. Laws change, however, and usually at a faster pace
than employers’ record keeping policies and practices. When you
update your employment policies (hopefully at least annually), you
should survey the records you keep and identify the law or
regulation that requires you to keep them.
- Develop New Policies Addressing Record Retention.
If you purge the records once per year to get rid of the records you
no longer are required to keep, the records will come back. You
must develop record creation and retention policies that will
inform others of what records should be made and what should not
- Destroy What You Do Not Need. As the problem of data theft
worsens, unnecessary records will become an ever-greater source
of liability exposure. If you cannot justify the retention of a
record, destroy it in a fashion which will prevent others from using
B. Discourage the Uncontrolled Making of Records.
Every management lawyer’s nightmare is the supervisor’s “private file”,
which usually contains the record which, when taken out of context,
becomes Exhibit A in the former employee’s trial. Supervisors are not
only making and keeping records for their convenience, they are creating
evidence. The law requires that an employer create certain evidence, such
as an illness and injury log or a supplemental report of an incident.
Everything else should be prepared only if required by the law and
required by necessity.
C. How and When to Make Records that the Law Does Not Require.
- Disciplinary records reflecting efforts to correct poor job
performance or bad behavior can be helpful if done correctly. This
should be done as a matter of routine, and under the supervision of
a person experienced with the defense of employment claims.
- Job Descriptions. Although not required by the law, regulations
under the ADA create a presumption that a job description validly
describes essential job functions. This is helpful in defending disability
discrimination claims. Job descriptions need to be
updated regularly, and there needs to be a careful review and
designation of the job duties that are essential functions.
- Training. OSHA mandates that hazard communication training
be documented, and state licensing laws may require that other
training be documented, but most training need not be
documented. The provision of training is helpful in the defense of
almost every kind of employment claim, so documentation of the
training, including attendance records, is helpful.