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How Long Should We Keep Resumes and Applications?

Last Updated on March 30, 2023 / Recordkeeping

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HR Question:

We’ve received a lot of resumes recently – some have been for positions we’ve posted, and some are unsolicited. Do we have to keep all of these resumes, and if so, how long do we need to keep the resumes and applications?

HR Answer:

First, let’s address what to do with unsolicited resumes. You are not obligated to store unsolicited resumes; however, it is important to be consistent with your approach. If there are any unsolicited resumes that you have kept for further consideration, your best approach is to keep all unsolicited resumes for the same duration of time that you retain your solicited resumes.

For resumes and applications that you have received in relation to a job opening, there are a few federal laws that require employers to retain employment applications and related documents ranging for a period of one to two years from the date of the hiring decision (the date the position was filled, not posted). Employers are responsible for following the federal laws under which they are covered as well as any contractual requirements that they may have (i.e., union contracts) that may require additional time to maintain records.

Another important item to note regarding applicant recordkeeping is that you are required to maintain not only employment applications for a position, but the entire hiring record. Hiring records could include such things as applications, resumes, screening tools and assessments, background checks, and reference checks. Anything that you use in assisting you with an employment decision is considered part of your hiring records.

Major federal laws that address employment records retention requirements include:

  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act – Requires employers to retain employment applications for one year. There is language, however, that indicates if you are aware the applicant is over age 40, you should retain it for as long as two years.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act – Requires employers to retain job applications and documents for one year. There is some variation based upon whether or not the applications are solicited or unsolicited, but the maximum retention is two years.
  • Executive Order 11246 – If you are a government contractor and have less than 150 employees or a contract of at least $150,000 you must retain these records for one year. If you have at least 150 employees or more and a contract of $150,000, you are required to keep the records for two years. If you have a resume on hand from a previous search and decide to consider it for a new position months down the road, you will need to keep that resume or application for the time required based on the last viewing of the document (i.e., 1-2 years past the fill date of the second position).

A word of caution – if there is a discrimination charge or unlawful employment practice brought against the employer, employment applications must be retained until the matter reaches a resolution. This can get tricky if someone claims discrimination because they did not get a promotion; the employer is then required to keep all the applications received for that promotion until the claim is resolved. With a lengthy lawsuit and litigation, this could be an extended amount of time.

Generally speaking, good practice is to keep resumes and applications of non-hired individuals for two years following the date the hiring process is completed for a position (i.e., from the time the new employee starts working). Remember to consult state laws in addition to federal regulations when determining how long to keep employee records.

Recordkeeping can be a daunting task, especially when you are trying to clean out old records and maintain the pertinent ones to remain compliant. Strategic HR understands your frustration and has many tried-and-trusted tips on recordkeeping – including a handy Recordkeeping Desktop Reference to help you decide what to keep and what to toss. Visit our Legal Compliance & Recordkeeping Services to learn more about ways we can help you to get your employment records in order.