Employers are required to keep certain payroll and personnel documents for all employees. Employees have a right to request access to these records.
Washington State law requires employers to keep employees' payroll records for at least three years. Employees have the right to request copies of these records at any reasonable time. The employer can keep the records in either an electronic and/or written format.
Payroll records must contain the employee’s:
- Full name
- Home address
- Date of birth (for employees under 18)
- Employment start date
- Time of day and day of week the employee's workweek begins
- Actual hours worked on a daily and weekly basis
- Rate(s) of pay
- Total wages earned (including straight time, overtime, piece work units earned, and bonuses)
- Tips and service charges earned
- Addition to or deductions from wages
- Additional records required for paid sick leave
You must keep additional records if you have employees under 18.
Upon request, employers must make payroll records available to the employee within a reasonable period of time – usually within 10 business days. The employee must be allowed to inspect, review, transcribe, or photocopy the records at their usual place of employment.
L&I may request payroll records in the event of an investigation. If an employer fails to produce the required records, we may rely on personal records of an employee involved in the investigation.
Itemized pay statements, commonly known as “pay stubs,” are a record of a worker’s earnings in a pay period. Pay stubs must be provided either electronically or on paper each payday. If an employee cannot receive an electronic pay statement, then the employer must provide a written one.
Employers must include the following details on each pay stub:
- The pay basis (e.g., hours or days worked, piece rate basis, or salary).
- Rate or rates of pay.
- Gross wages.
- All deductions for that pay period.
- All records required for paid sick leave.
For agricultural employers, there are additional pay stub and record keeping requirements
Protecting Employees’ Records
Privacy laws require employers to protect employees’ personally identifying, sensitive, or health-related information from unauthorized disclosure.
Reporting data breaches
Any employer with personally identifying, sensitive, or health related information must notify employees if they are affected by an actual or suspected data breach. Notification must be given to affected employees as soon as possible, unless otherwise directed by law enforcement.
If a data breach affects more than 500 people, it must be reported to the Office of the Attorney General.
See the Attorney General’s Data Breach Notifications page for more details.
After the required state, federal, and your businesses’ retention periods for recordkeeping end, the employer must properly dispose of or destroy employees’ payroll and personnel records.
See Chapter 19.215 RCW for full details.
Personnel records detail an employee’s performance, knowledge, skills, abilities, and behavior as it relates to their job. Federal law requires employers to keep employees’ personnel files for at least one year.
Personnel records are kept for business or legal purposes and may include:
- Worker qualifications (hiring records, past experience, academic information, etc.)
- Verification of training completed
- Job descriptions
- Supervisor’s files
- Performance evaluations (including disciplinary actions, corrective action plans, etc.)
- Records subject to reference for information given to persons outside the business
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from keeping medical information in an employee’s personnel record.
Employee’s right to access
Employees and former employees have a right to access their own personnel files at least once a year. Employers must allow access to any or all of an employee’s records within 10 business days at the employee’s usual place of employment, or a mutually agreed upon location. Employees under criminal investigation do not have the right to access their personnel record.
Petition to employer review personnel record
Employees can request that their employer review their personnel file annually. This includes all personnel records that are:
- Regularly maintained by the employer as part of their business, and/or
- Information that can be given to persons outside of the company as a part of a “reference check”
Any information the employer determines to be irrelevant or erroneous must be removed from the personnel file. If the employee disputes the employer’s determination, then the employee can add a statement containing a rebuttal or correction. Employees under criminal investigation do not have the right to modify their personnel record.
L&I has no jurisdiction over the information a business reveals for a personal or job reference, including if the business refuses to provide references at all.