How Long to Maintain Training Records

Today’s burning question: Is there a recommended length of time an agency should keep training records such as class rosters?  Our organization, to protect ourselves, archive all our records and have a management system for how long they are stored.  We save course records, including sign in sheets, so we could prove that an employee (or previous employee) did attend specific training as required.  These are in generic “training records” tied to department training and not employee specific, so these are not individual training records.

We were planning on a term of 40 years total as an employee could be a member for 20-30 years and then a reasonable safety margin. Are there any specific requirements to the term we must maintain these records? 

Answer: Record retention requirements are highly jurisdiction specific and there are no absolute time frames that I am aware of. The only universal recommendation is that fire departments have a formalized record retention policy that specifies how long each type of record must be maintained. My advice is to sit with your local attorney and make the appropriate determination based on state and local law.

There are at least three sets of concerns with regards to record retention policies:

  1. Compliance with Public Records laws (record retention requirements are usually set by your state’s Secretary of State’s Office or similar agency, but training records should also  include additional requirements established by the state fire academy/fire marshal, and any local requirements if applicable)
  2. Addressing concerns about “Litigation Holds”
  3. Addressing the needs of the agency
    • Data wise
    • Ability to document personnel are properly trained in the event of litigation, OSHA investigation, LODD investigation, etc.

In this day and age I do not think it unreasonable to keep training records for the duration of an employee’s career plus a reasonable length of time. OSHA requires an employer to maintain employee medical records for the duration of an employee’s employment plus 30 years. That is not a bad place to start.

Digital storage is cheap, takes up little room, and even paper records can easily be scanned in. What is even more amazing is that electronic records can be configured to be searchable, so even though an employee’s name may be on a roster that is stored amongst thousands of rosters, his/her name can easily be located.

In terms of what needs to be maintained, I would recommend you maintain training documentation beyond just sign-in sheets. Consider including documentation of the curriculum, instructors, instructor credentials, and records related to successful completion. Keeping copies of actual quizzes, examination answer sheets, skill sheets, instructor notes, etc. for each employee’s entire career plus 30 is not necessary so long as successful completion is documented.

However, quizzes, answer sheets, and skill sheets should be maintained for a designated period in case they become relevant in a particular case. That is where your jurisdiction’s public records law and statutes of limitation will come into play. It is vital that your local attorney help you to make those kinds of determinations.

Another thing to consider is incorporating “litigation holds” into your record retention policy and training all personnel on it. A litigation hold is a procedure to hold and preserve certain documentation (or evidence) because it is or may be relevant to pending or threatened litigation. Failure to preserve records that are relevant to a legal proceeding can result in a fire department losing a case it should have won.

That may not seem like a big deal, but consider this: If you screwed up, and the records would have shown you screwed up, then failing to maintain the records didn’t really hurt you. You will lose the case, and you deserve to lose the case. That is not why we need a litigation hold.

The big deal is when you did NOTHING WRONG but failed to maintain the records. Now you risk losing a case you should have won!!!

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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