How to Retain Original Hard Copy I-9s

Employers who  maintain their original I-9 forms in a paper file often struggle in creating and maintaining such a paper file.  Below are some suggestions:

1.  Keep your I-9 forms separate from other files such as personnel files.  In the event you are audited by ICE, you will have to produce your original I-9 forms within three business days.  Pulling each I-9 form out of a personnel file is very time-consuming.  Also, the required retention for I-9 forms (discussed further below) is likely different than the retention period for your personnel files.

2.  Create two I-9 form files one for active employees and one for terminated employees.  You will always need an I-9 form for an active employee.  In the active I-9 form file, put your I-9s in alphabetical order or some other order where you will be able to easily retrieve the ones you will need in the event of an audit.  Also, once an active employee is terminated, you will be able to easily move that employees I-9 form from your active I-9 form file to your terminated I-9 form file.

3.  In your terminated I-9 form file, create a folder for the current year and the next three years and then have separate folders for each month within each year.  For example, if you were to create a terminated I-9 form file today, you would have a folder for 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, each containing every month of the year. 

4.  The retention requirement for I-9s is:  three years from date of hire or one year from termination, WHICHEVER IS LONGER.  Once you determine the retention requirement or date of destruction for each I-9 form for terminated employees, place that terminated employees I-9 form in the applicable month and year folder.  Once that month has passed, you can destroy those I-9s in that file. 

You may hear others say that if you just keep I-9s for three years following termination, then you will be safe.  While this is technically true because under that method you would never destroy an I-9 form before its retention requirement has past, it best to not retain any more I-9s than you are legally required to keep.  All the I-9s forms in your possession  may  be subject to review during an audit, even if they are outside the retention requirement.  

Finally, I suggest that you keep your I-9 form files confidential (e.g., locked up)  as they contain personal information about your employees.