Like every organization, you’re in the business of hiring. So, what if an applicant doesn’t quite make the cut? After you send the letdown email or make the call to the hopeful candidate, you probably have some common next steps. Do you shred the applicant’s resume and toss their application? Maybe, like many businesses, you keep the resume on file in case you want to revisit the job seeker’s credentials later. Despite what you might think, there is a wrong and a right way to approach the retention of these records. We’ve touched on this topic before, but let’s revisit the idea of pre-employment material retention, discuss common mistakes, and explore how you can prevent them.

One mistake some businesses make is to only hang onto pre-employment documents if they believe they might consider the candidate in the future. This is okay as long as this operational requirement also meets the legal requirements. But, you should know you can’t only hang onto the materials from a well-liked interviewee. Even if an applicant didn’t meet your basic requirements, you guessed it: you need to retain their materials for just as long.

Some businesses try to get ahead of this problem by hanging onto all pre-employment documents indefinitely, but you also need to consider privacy requirements. Even if Jim is your next potential superstar when Carl retires, you can’t keep his cover letter on file forever. To ensure compliance with privacy laws, you need to examine state and federal laws that apply to your business and follow the retention policies as written. Ideally, your company’s retention policies have already been evaluated to comply with legal requirements. For most businesses, this means you’ll have all those materials on file for a year after a relevant personnel action, such as the decision to not hire or completion of recruitment. Why a year? Federal non-discrimination laws typically require employers to retain certain pre-employment documents for a year. Additionally, privacy laws in some states, such as Utah, require you to keep these records only as long as necessary to comply with the minimum retention requirement, and in any event, no longer than the two years mandated by that requirement.

In exceptional circumstances, you might need to keep these records around even longer. If you’re a federal contractor, three years is the rule. If you follow the Department of Transportation requirements for pre-employment drug testing, you’ll want to hang onto the records for five years. It’s essential that you consider every record that’s created in this pre-employment phase. A good rule of thumb for these types of records is: “even if it seems mundane, make sure you retain,” only in the sense that you shouldn’t immediately delete the records without additional consideration. Ensure you retain these records in accordance with internal requirements and any relevant laws and regulations that affect your business. And, just as importantly, make sure you dispose of records according to the guidelines for the type of business you run, if applicable. If a privacy requirement in your state dictates that you must destroy the records after two years, you need to do so.

Ultimately, to ensure compliance, it’s crucial that you carefully examine both state and federal laws that apply to your business. Balancing internal operational and business needs, along with legal requirements can help ensure you keep these records for an appropriate retention period.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is to provide general education on Information Governance topics. The statements are informational only and do not constitute legal advice. If you have specific questions regarding the application of the law to your business activities, you should seek the advice of your legal counsel.