3 Thoughts on What Should and Should Not Be Included in the Personnel Files

In a March 2015 article written by the Society of Human Resource Management, the article provided guidance on separating employee files for relevancy and confidentiality.  Employee records can be separated into three types of files.  “A general personnel file, a confidential employee file and a common file.”[i]  Organizations should always consider and be aware of sensitive information (date of birth, marital status, Social Security numbers, HIPAA protected information, criminal history, court orders, financial history, etc.), that can be included in any of the three separated files.  Other considerations should include relevancy to the supervisor or management of the workforce.  “Is it related to the employee’s performance, knowledge skills, abilities or behavior?”[ii]  This should also be a determining factor, when separating information and organizing new files.  Does the supervisor or manager need access to all the information?

The Basic Personnel File (supervisor and manager relevant):

  • Recruiting information, resumes, job application and academic transcripts
  • Job descriptions (signed)
  • Job offer, promotion, rates of pay, compensation information, training records
  • Handbook and policy acknowledgements (including revised policies)
  • Recognition
  • Disciplinary information, warnings, coaching and counseling
  • Performance evaluations
  • Termination records, exit interview, closure of the file (goes without writing)

The Confidential Personnel File:

  • EEO records
  • Reference and background checks
  • Drug test results
  • Medical and insurance records
  • Child support and garnishments
  • Legal documents
  • Workers compensation and short-term disability claims
  • Investigation notes
  • Form I-9*

The Common File:

  • Form I-9 Audits
  • Form I-9’s* (my recommendation is to put active employee’s I-9’s in a binder that is accessible, confidential and locked in a cabinet, for auditing and reviews).

Regardless of the filing process(s) your organization has implemented, the information contained in any of the employee files needs to be kept confidential and locked in secure filing cabinets.  During trainings with supervisors and managers, my statement is simple, treat your employee’s information as it is your own confidential information.  The last thing we want is open personnel files on desks, doctor’s notes attached to calendars and unlocked filing cabinets.  When an employee exits the organization, I consolidate all files and information into one folder and store in a terminated employee file section, with the exit interview (if applicable).  “Maintaining records in separate files as discussed above allows managers, employees and outside auditors to see the information they need to make decisions, yet does not allow inappropriate access.”[iii]  Filing and organizing paperwork is not always fun, but it is necessary to ensure legality and confidentiality.  If you are confused on employee files and appropriate storage, seek guidance.  Electronic files and legal requirements related to electronic filing can vary by state, a thorough understanding of these laws is necessary prior to implementing an electronic filing system.  We should be proactive and take all precautions, related to employee records and record retention.

[iv]

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/includedinpersonnelfile.aspx

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/includedinpersonnelfile.aspx

[iii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/includedinpersonnelfile.aspx

[iv] http://cyquesthr.com/access-personnel-files-laws-50-states/