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Employee Personnel Files and Payroll Records: What To Keep and What to Destroy and When They Can Be Inspected

Prepared By: Melissa C. Marsh, Los Angeles Employment Attorney
Written: March 2009

An employee personnel file should be established as soon as an employee is hired and should include such items as:

  1. the employment application;

  2. employee offer letter of employment, or employment agreement;

  3. IRS Form W-4 (the Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate);

  4. any forms relating to benefits;

  5. copy of the employee’s identification and social security card;

  6. employee’s acknowledgments of receipt of the Employee Handbook, and/or any key employee policies such as an anti-harassment policy;

  7. any updated personal contact information for the employee;

  8. any performance reviews;

  9. any disciplinary memos;

  10. the employee’s attendance record; and

  11. any information regarding promotions, transfers, and salary changes.

An employee personnel file should NOT contain any: (a) confidential, attorney-client privileged communications, (b) confidential medical information, including such information relating to a disability, (c) confidential information obtained during a background or reference check; (d) letters of reference; (e) USCIS Form 1-9 to verify employment eligibility; or (f) records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense.

California Employee's Right to Inspect.

California Labor Code §1198.5 requires employers to allow their employees, and former employees, access (at reasonable times) to their personnel files and records that relate to the employee’s performance or to any grievance concerning the employee. California Labor Code §226(b) requires employers to permit current and former employees to inspect or copy payroll records pertaining to that current or former employee within 21 days of receipt of a written request.

The employee's right to inspect personnel files and records, however, does not apply to records relating to: (1) the investigation of a possible criminal offense, (2) letters of reference, or (3) ratings, reports, or records that were obtained before the employee commenced employment or that were obtained in connection with a promotional exam.

Although a California employer is not required to provide current, or former, employees with a copy of their entire personnel file, the employer is required, upon request, to provide a current, or former, employee with a copy of any document the employee signed if the document relates to getting, or retaining, employment.

Any employer who violates, refuses, or neglects to comply with an employee’s right of inspection is guilty of a misdemeanor. Labor Code Section 1199(c).

When It Is Okay To Destroy Documents.

Employee personnel files, time cards, and expense reports should be retained for 4 years from the date the employee is no longer working for the business. Employee payroll records should be maintained for 6 years from the date the employee is no longer working for the business.

If you would like the assistance of a Los Angeles, California employment law attorney to advise your small or medium sized business on employee matters, please call: 818-849-5206 or Email Melissa C. Marsh, a Los Angeles, California employment lawyer based in Sherman Oaks and West Hollywood. We are available to serve small to midsize businesses throughout Los Angeles County, including: West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Miracle Mile, Burbank, North Hollywood, Valley Village, Toluca Lake, Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Van Nuys, Encino, and Woodland Hills.

© 2009 Melissa C. Marsh. All Rights Reserved.

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Disclaimer: The information presented on this web site was prepared by Melissa C. Marsh for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The information provided in my articles and alerts should not be relied upon, or used as a substitute for professional legal advice from an attorney you retain to advise or represent you. Your use of this Internet site does not create an attorney- client relationship. Transmission of this article is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. All uses of the contents of this site, other than personal uses, are prohibited. You may print or email a copy of any information posted on this web site for your own personal, non-commercial, use, but you may not publish any of the articles or posts on this web site without the Express Written Permission of Melissa C. Marsh.

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Located in Los Angeles, California, the Law Office of Melissa C. Marsh handles business law and corporation law matters as a lawyer for clients throughout Los Angeles including Burbank, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Valley Village, North Hollywood, Woodland Hills, Hollywood, West LA as well as Riverside County, San Fernando, Ventura County, and Santa Clarita. Attorney Melissa C. Marsh has considerable experience handling business matters both nationally and internationally. We routinely assist our clients with incorporation, forming a California corporation, forming a California llc, partnership, annual minutes, shareholder meetings, director meetings, getting a taxpayer ID number (EIN), buying a business, selling a business, commercial lease review, employee disputes, independent contractors, construction, and personal matters such as preparing a will, living trust, power of attorney, health care directive, and more.