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HR Q&A: How Long Must We Keep I-9s?

By September 29, 2023No Comments

We were cleaning out a storage locker (with a shredding company), and we later noticed we were missing a box of I-9s from former separated employees from the years 2015 – 2020. They were shredded, now what?!


The good news is that there is likely “no harm – no foul” due to the age of those files.

Why? For every employee currently on your payroll and who came aboard after November 6, 1986, you need to keep a Form I-9 completely filled out.

Don’t consider tossing away the current employee’s Form I-9, plus any copies (or fancy electronic pics) you took for their Form I-9 documents. The rule is to hang onto those records as long as they’re employed by you and then a short time after you part ways. Even if they were only employed for a short period of time.

The countdown on when you can get rid of the files starts when an employee waves goodbye. According to the federal rulebook, you’re supposed to retain a Form I-9 for each new hire – keep it filed away (One big separate file for all I-9s, not with your employee’s personnel file!) for three years after they join the organization, or for one year after they punch out, whichever’s later.

Need to decode the math for a past employee’s Form I-9?

  • If they worked for you for less than two years, hold onto their form for three years from their First Day of Employment date.
  • If they stayed with the organization for more than two years, keep the I-9 for a year after they call it quits.

Whether you choose to keep your I-9s on paper, those fancy microfilm thingamajigs, or zippity electronic style, go for it. Remember, you only need to keep the pages where you and your employee wrote the information down.

You may toss the Acceptable Documents list on page 2, the manual, and any empty pages.

File that new I-9 with all the others in that separate I-9 file in a separate lockable drawer away from the personnel files.

When an employee departs, depending on how you store your I-9 (paper or electronically), pull their I-9 from the active file to the inactive file and purge (shred!) accordingly.


501(c) Services has more than 40 years of experience helping nonprofits with unemployment outsourcing, reimbursing, and HR services. Two of our most popular programs are the 501(c) Agencies Trust and 501(c) HR Services. We understand the importance of compliance and accuracy, and we are committed to providing our clients with customized plans that fit their needs.

Contact us today to see if your organization could benefit from our services.

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(Photos by: nirat-pix, andreyoskirko)

The information contained in this article is not a substitute for legal advice or counsel and has been pulled from multiple sources.

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