Retention of Job Applications

How long should job applications, resumes, letters of reference, and other records submitted by applicants for vacant positions, not to mention unsolicited applications and resumes, be retained? Though job applications would seemingly lose value after the hiring decision, these records are good to have if the hiring process is restarted, or, in a worst case scenario, a hiring discrimination complaint is filed and attorneys request those applications.

Our retention periods for job applications and related records are based on federal regulations 29 CFR 1602.31 (retention of personnel and employment records by state and local governments), 29 CFR 1602.40 (retention of personnel and employment records by schools systems, school districts, and individual schools), and 29 CFR 1602.49 (retention of personnel and employment records by institutions of higher education).

For local governments, as stated in Standard-11, Item 30, in the County Management Records Retention and Disposition Schedule, and Standard-12, Item 30, in the Municipal Records Retention and Disposition Schedule, the retention and disposition of job applications is 2 years. More specifically:

  • For a job applicant who is hired: transfer application, resume, transcripts, letters of reference, and related records to the official personnel file. After 2 years, you can purge these records from the official personnel file, though the common practice of retaining applications in the file for an employee’s entire tenure is fine.
  • For a job applicant who is not hired: retain the application, resume, transcripts, letters of reference, and related records for 2 years after the date of receipt, if no charge of discrimination has been filed. If a charge has been filed, retain these records for 1 year after resolution of the charge.
  • Unsolicited applications and resumes, and those received after the posted closing date for the position, can be destroyed 2 years after receipt.

For state agencies, the retention and disposition of job applications, resumes, recommendation forms submitted by interviewers of applicants, and other related records, as described in Item G179 (Applications for Employment (PD-107) File) of the General Schedule for State Agency Records, is:

  • For a job applicant who is hired: transfer the job application and related records to the official personnel file and follow the retention period of 30 years from date of separation.
  • For a job applicant who is not hired and for unsolicited applications and resumes: retain the application and related records for 3 years after the date of receipt, if no charge of discrimination has been filed. If a charge has been filed, retain those records 1 year after resolution of the charge.

As noted in the General Schedule, the provisions of N.C.G.S. 126-22 regarding the confidentiality of state agency personnel records apply to job applications transferred to official personnel files. Similar confidentiality restrictions apply to county personnel records (N.C.G.S. 153A-98) and municipal personnel records (N.C.G.S. 160A-168).

However, while parts of official personnel files are public, unsolicited resumes as well as job applications and resumes from applicants who are not hired for government positions are not public records and thus are entirely confidential. While this restriction is not explicitly stated in N.C.G.S. 153A-98 and N.C.G.S. 160A-168, North Carolina’s laws have been interpreted as granting this confidentiality.

For further reading on the confidentiality of job applications, read Tom Vincent’s post on this blog on “Confidentiality of Applicants’ Names” and 2 posts on the UNC School of Government’s Coates’ Canons blog: “Confidentiality of Applicants’ Names” by Robert Joyce and “Who Has Access to Applicant Information?” by Frayda Bluestein, who observes “… the public has no right of access to any information about applicants.”

If your office regularly deals with job applications, you may find it easier to manage them if you follow these suggestions. First, file rejected applicants’ job applications and unsolicited resumes separately from official personnel files and in a secure location. This mitigates the risk of accidental release of confidential information and eases the identification of applications and resumes that have met their retention and can be destroyed. Second, for hired applicants, file job applications, resumes, letters of reference, and related records in labelled sub-folders within the official personnel files for easy purging when their retention is met. Don’t forget that, due to their confidentiality, job applications and related records require a destruction method, such as secure shredding, that makes any reconstruction of these records impossible! Taking these steps will slow the growth of official personnel files, parts of which must be kept for 30 years after separation.

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