Employee personnel files

January 14th, 2019

As an HR professional you are no stranger to paperwork. It seems that for every employment action – applying, interviewing, hiring, disciplining, on and on – there is a specific form that needs to be filled out. Making sure you complete the paperwork properly is only half the battle though. Once you finish completing a form, you are faced with a whole new issue: what to do with it.  Being the smarty that you are, you know that proper documentation is key in protecting your company in the unfortunate case of a lawsuit, but knowing what needs to be kept where and for how long and who can see it can be kind of tricky. Let’s take a minute to go over the basics.

What goes into an employee personnel file?

While most states define “personnel files” loosely and the contents of a file can differ based on industry, personnel files typically consist of documents which are related to “an employee’s qualifications for employment, promotion, transfer, additional compensation, discharge, or other disciplinary action.” A few items that should be kept in the file are:

  • employment applications
  • performance evaluation forms
  • discipline records
  • signed handbook acknowledgments
  • tax forms, such as W-4s
  • pay information, such as raises or cuts. (Note: not payroll records, those should be maintained separately.)

Your state may have additional regulations on what needs to be included in personnel files, so make sure to consult your Human Resources Manual on hrsimple.com.

What should be kept separately?

Medical information

Generally, all medical records should be kept confidential and stored apart from personnel files. Medical information can be obtained for various employment related reasons and should be maintained accurately and securely in case of an investigation. Some examples of medical information include:

  • requests for FMLA leave
  • workers’ compensation claims
  • drug testing results
  • notes from physicians concerning absences due to illness
  • insurance benefits forms

Immigration forms

While employers are required to retain employee I-9 forms for a period of three years from the date of hire, or one year after employment is terminated, they should be kept separate from a personnel file. Keeping I-9 Forms out of personnel files insures a certain amount of protection in the case of a government investigation, in that some employment information could suggest discrimination on the employer’s part and would be better if not disclosed.

Payroll records

Keeping an accurate record of who was paid how much and when is extremely important for tax reasons and in case of an audit or investigation, but these records should be kept outside of personnel information. As with immigration forms, a discrimination claim may arise if personnel information is released during an investigation into a company’s pay history, so it is wise to keep this information separate.

Who should be given access?

A common issue with personnel files is whether to give your employees access to their own file or not. Some employees may be upset if they see the sensitive information contained in their files – such as discipline notes and pay information. On the other hand, not granting them access could hurt employee relations. Additionally, several states have laws on whether to grant employees access or not.