How long do I keep applications?

Employment Application

By Charlie Plumb

Employers often ask how long they should keep the applications of unsuccessful applicants. Based on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s recent enforcement actions, it’s important to know the right answer to that question.

In June 2010, Martina Owes applied for two vacant warehouse positions with Coca-Cola Bottling of Mobile, Alabama. According to Owes and the EEOC, she was experienced and qualified, but nevertheless was rejected by the bottler for both vacancies. The EEOC claimed that Owes had the required warehouse and forklift experience, but the employer chose to hire less qualified men. The EEOC filed a lawsuit on Owes’ behalf against the Alabama company, accusing the employer of discriminating against her on the basis of sex in violation of Title VII. But the EEOC’s lawsuit included an additional wrinkle.

Investigation reveals record-keeping violations

Before the lawsuit was filed, the EEOC conducted an investigation of the discrimination charge Owes filed when she was turned down for employment. When investigating discriminatory failure-to-hire charges, the EEOC often will look for patterns in earlier hiring decisions. Here, the EEOC asked the bottler to provide the applications of unsuccessful and successful candidates for the five-month period preceding Owes’ application. When the employer was unable to provide the requested applications, the EEOC included a separate, additional claim in its lawsuit against the bottler for its violation of Title VII’s record-keeping requirements.

Record-keeping requirements for employers

Personnel record-keeping requirements begin to run from the date a particular record was made or from the date an employment decision was made – whichever is later. Here’s a “cheat sheet” for the applicable record-keeping time periods:

Retain for 1 year: Title VII, Americans with Disabilities Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

Retain for 3 years: All payroll records (Fair Labor Standards Act and ADEA)

As you might expect, employers are increasingly maintaining historical personnel records through electronic methods, which is fine, so long as you are able to demonstrate accuracy and reliability.