The following questions, which implicate the Public Records Act, are frequently asked: how long does an agency need to retain and maintain public records? How long does an agency need to retain the recordings of public meetings?
The purpose of the Public Records Act (PRA) is to give the public access documents and other stored information in the possession of public agencies. Any citizen may request access to public records. A public record is “any writing(s) containing information relating to the conduct of the business, prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.” Upon a request for public records, an agency generally must determine within ten days after receipt of the request whether to comply with the request and must also notify the person making the request of its decision.
The first question regularly posed is: how long does an agency need to retain public records? The answer to this question will vary, depending on the nature of the public record. Several records retention requirements overlap and stem from state and federal statutes. Also, an agency may have its own records retention policy. For example, under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, job applications must be maintained for at least two years after their creation or receipt. Under Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act, employment records related to hiring must be retained for at least one year from the date of hiring or from the date of any relevant employment action. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that payroll records be maintained for three years. The California Labor Code requires that the names and addresses of all employees, their daily hours worked, and wages paid to all employees be maintained for at least two years. Employers are also required to maintain their OSHA Log 200 and annual summaries of illnesses and injuries for five years post the work-related illnesses and injuries. Employers who are self-insured for workers’ compensation claims must maintain workers’ compensation files for five years from the date of injury or from when benefits were last paid, whichever is later. As a final example, employers subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) must retain FMLA records, including hours taken, notices, and policies, for three years.
The second question frequently posed is: how long does an agency need to retain recordings of public meetings? Any recording of an open public meeting, made for whatever purpose, by or at the direction of the local agency, is subject to inspection pursuant to the PRA. This means that a member of the public may submit a request to the agency and view the recording of the meeting at no charge. The recording of the meeting may be erased or destroyed by the agency thirty days after the meeting was recorded.
It is prudent for agencies to have records retention policies in place that require the maintenance of records for at least the minimum of amount of time required by law. Having a policy that delineates a standard period of time for which various records will be retained will assist in responding to, and processing, PRA requests.