If one of your employees experiences a work-related injury, your workers’ comp insurance can provide benefits, like payment for lost wages and coverage for medical evaluations and costs.
But for that to happen, you’ll first have to file a claim with your workers’ comp provider.
When you file a claim, you do so with the state, and some states have specific requirements for how long you should keep a record of the claim along with related documents.
Wondering how this applies to you?
Let’s take a closer look at how workers’ comp record retention rules work for states that have them and those that don’t.
What Are Workers’ Comp Records?
Workers’ compensation records include all the files you submitted concerning a claim. Claim filing requirements can vary by state, but they usually include a claim form along with relevant accident reports and medical records.
Once a claim has been processed, you’ll also have files from your insurance provider that state whether or not the claim was approved and provide details about the workers’ compensation benefits your employee will receive.
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How Long to Keep Workers’ Comp Records
In general, you should hold on to your workers’ comp records for three years. That being said, the amount of time you have to file and store workers’ comp claim records ultimately depends on your state’s regulations.
Let’s look at the workers’ comp recordkeeping requirements in a specific state to get a better idea of how they work.
In California, all files related to workers’ comp claims need to be kept for five years after the date of the employee’s injury or five years after the last payment of benefits, whichever is later.
Seems simple enough, right?
Yes, but this relatively straightforward guidance comes with a disclaimer: There is an exception for claims where the employee is offered future medical benefits.
How does that work? Well, let’s say your employee needs healthcare treatment for carpal tunnel, which is a repetitive strain injury. The claim settlement may include an offer to pay for future medical treatment if the condition worsens in the future and they need surgery.
In the case of a claim with future benefits, you cannot destroy those files.
What If Your State Doesn’t Require You to Keep Records?
Many states, like Pennsylvania, outline how to file a workers’ compensation claim, but they don’t tell you how long to hold onto claim-related documents.
If that applies to the state where your business is located, you may want to look at your state’s statute of limitations for reopening a claim.
Let’s look at an example. In Wisconsin, employees have up to 12 years from the date of their last benefit payment to reopen a claim. So, you may decide to create a company policy where you keep all workers’ comp records for 12 years after the employee receives their benefit payout.
Okay, but what should you do if your state doesn’t specify a time limit for reopening claims either?
One option is to follow the recommendations made by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the Uniform Preservation of Private Business Records Act (UPPBRA), which says to keep records for three years if state law doesn’t specify a retention period.
Several states, including Colorado, Illinois, and Texas have enacted statutes that follow these guidelines. These acts protect employers if they destroy the documents after storing them for at least three years.
That being said, you may still want to speak with a lawyer or legal advisor if you have questions about your state’s specific recordkeeping requirements.
Recordkeeping Requirements for Other Important Employment Records
While the federal government doesn’t set record retention periods for workers’ comp claim information, some of its departments, like the Department of Labor, do have recordkeeping rules for other employment situations.
Here are the recordkeeping regulations you should know about and include in your human resources and records management policies.
|Federal Rule||Record Retention Period|
|IRS Employment-Related Records||4 years for employment-related tax documents|
|Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)||5 years for workplace incident and injury reports|
|Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)||3 years for payroll records and collective bargaining agreements; 2 years for records used to determine wages, including time tracking, tip records, and payroll deductions|
|Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)||3 years for payroll records and employee benefits documents related to FMLA leave and paid/unpaid vacation policies|
|Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)||1 year (after the date of termination) for all employment records and personnel records|
|Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)||All disability-related records, such as accommodation requests, should be stored confidentially outside of personnel files. If you experience a disability-related lawsuit or an action by the EEOC, you must keep the records until the action is resolved.|
Know How Long to Keep Workers’ Comp Records in Your State
Workers’ comp records include the initial claim as well as supporting documents like the accident report and relevant medical records. In some states, like California and Ohio, you’re required to keep those files stored for a defined period of time.
That being said, state labor laws are often confusing and difficult to interpret. If you’re feeling unsure about whether your business is adhering to your state’s record retention requirements or other employment laws, it’s best to talk with a lawyer or licensed insurance advisor who can help you with compliance.
If your state doesn’t define recordkeeping requirements for workers’ comp claims, then it’s up to you to come up with a policy that works for you. Several states follow the guideline of holding onto documents for at least three years after they’re created. If that sounds good to you, then it might be a good place to start.