What Should Be Documented in an Employee’s Personnel File?
Here’s how to maintain a complete, accurate, and current file on each of your employees — and why it’s a best practice for your business.
Comprehensive employee personnel files are an important tool for business. The documents in the file create a history and timeline of the worker’s tenure, achievements and areas that have required correction. Maintaining a complete, accurate, and current file on each employee is a best practice for business.
If it relates to the work being performed, or the employee performing it, it should be in writing and part of the file. It begins before an employers hire an employee, with a job description, and continues from employment through separation. Some businesses maintain hard-copy files, others digitize the materials to save space. However you maintain your records, make sure they’re complete and current.
How long should companies maintain personnel records?
As a general practice, most businesses maintain employee personnel records for 7 years after the worker has separated.
As a general practice, most businesses maintain employee personnel records for 7 years after the worker has separated. This assures for compliance with most federal, state and local record-keeping regulations. The EEOC requires business maintain employee records for a minimum of 1 year. State and local authorities may have more lengthy retention mandates. In the event of a charge of discrimination, harassment, or a civil suit, you’ll want to ensure you preserve all documentation.
What belongs in a personnel file?
From before the employee’s hiring, through the last day on the payroll, personnel files outline tenure. Creating files for each employee is critical to protect your business and staff. Documentation provides guidance when hiring, training, promoting and disciplining an employee. It informs business decisions with a record of how the employee began, where they are today, and where they can be in the future.
Not every record in the file should be available to every member of your team, however. Some personnel records should be separate from the main employee file. For some businesses, this means creating 4 files for each employee. Others create a single, accordion file for each worker, with distinct sections separated and only accessible to authorized users.
Four types of files (or file sections) are necessary:
- Hiring documents
- Performance documents
- Medical documents
- Confidential documents
Create an employee file before you hire them. Follow guidelines to assure the most comprehensive personnel file for each worker.
Use an accurate job description to develop job postings, compare candidate qualifications, and create discussion points for interviews. Maintaining a current job description throughout the employee’s tenure also provides reference points for performance evaluations and/or deficiencies.
Resume and application
Include the new hire’s resume and application in the file. For many organizations a resume is the only documentation requested pre-hire, but this can be a costly mistake. A completed application should also be a part of the file. Applications require employees attest, by their signature, the information they’ve provided about their education, skills, and job history is true and accurate. This can be critically important if there are problems in the future.
Note: applications should not include inquiries about criminal or salary history. While there are currently no federal bans on requesting the information, many states and local authorities have prohibitions. It’s a best practice not avoid this information, even if it’s not banned in your area.
Applications require employees attest, by their signature, the information they’ve provided about their education, skills, and job history is true and accurate. This can be critically important if there are problems in the future.
References and background checks
Few job seekers provide written reference information, but some do. Include it in the personnel file. Oral reference checks, done by HR or hiring authorities, should also be documented and included. Make sure to note who you spoke with and when; what information was verified – dates of employment, title, comments, etc.
Offer letters, contracts or other employment agreements, including NDAs, should be included to verify they were received and active. Business should also provide employees with a current copy of the company’s handbook and request a signed verification it was received.
Hiring documents should be accessible only to HR or hiring managers. These materials may contain private information that should not be generally available.
Documents the show an employee has satisfied their new-hire probationary period, as well as performance evaluations should be kept in the personnel file. In some organizations, annual performance reviews are formal documents, in others more frequent discussions are the norm. All should be written up and added to the file to document growth and assure follow-up on goals set.
Add congratulatory information to the file. Also include kudos from customers, coworkers, or managers in written form to document employee performance and growth.
If you promote an employee or transfer them to another department, include information on the status change with performance documents. Don’t forget to include a current copy of their new job description to help with performance evaluations.
If employees use work-related sabbaticals, include this information to document the work being learned or performed and the timeline to return to from the leave.
Preserve disciplinary actions. Progressive discipline forms, verbal warning, written warning, final warning, etc. are necessary to keep. They should be accurately worded, signed by the employee and the manager who issued the warnings to maintain a record of progression. A written warning system is a best practice for business. Document verbal warnings and add them to employee files as they occur. These keep record of:
- A timeline of the issue
- Employee corrections
- Whether the behavior has been resolved or if further action is required
These include letters of resignation or involuntary termination information. These materials can finalize any progressive disciplinary actions taken by the employer. If your organization conducts exit interviews, document these discussions and include to the file.
Performance documents should be accessible to hiring managers, supervisors and HR professionals.
Maintain healthcare enrollment materials and subsequent annual benefits enrollment forms in the employee medical file to verify employee selections. Include any requests for changes to coverage due to qualifying events, such as marriage, divorce or the birth or placement of a child to the home.
Leave of absence forms
Document FMLA and/or medical leave of absence requests and save them to a separate file. If an employee requests a personal leave of absence, include these in the medical file, as well: they may be related to an employees mental well-being or the need for leave to attend to the health of a family member or relation.
Keep documentation that supports the need for an accommodation under the ADA in the medical file. Also include additional documents that outline what accommodations were provided to the employee.
Segregate information related to worker’s compensation claims and status to the medical file. This may also include long- and short-term disability forms and information.
Separate pre-employment or random drug testing information into the employee medical file.
These materials can be highly sensitive; do not include them in the general personnel file. Medical documents should be accessible only to benefits administration and HR personnel.
Personal sensitive information
If there is information that does not directly relate to work, or contains sensitive data, keep it separate from other employee documents.
If there is information that does not directly relate to work, or contains sensitive data, keep it separate from other employee documents. These can include paperwork that describes marital status, dependent information, Social Security numbers, court orders for child support, or wage assignments. Keep driver’s or CDL licenses, or other certifications that could include personal information like date of birth, in a confidential folder.
Tax and PTO information
Hold tax and other forms necessary for payroll in a confidential folder. If maintained, separate documentation that tracks employee sick, personal, and vacation days in hard-copy form.
Work authorization information
For businesses with workers on temporary or long-term work visas, include these documents in the confidential file. They contain sensitive information that can include race, national origin, religion, etc. that employers should not disseminate.
Criminal background checks
If your organization performs criminal background checks on new hires, these documents should also be in a confidential file. Hiring managers and supervisors should be notified about the worker’s eligibility only: details of eligibility should not be provided.
Confidential information should be accessible to authorized users only. Payroll will have access to tax and work eligibility documents: HR must maintain these materials separate and inaccessible to any other employee.
Employee personnel files should be a comprehensive look at the tenure of the staff member. Keeping detailed files provides support for team leaders to make informed employment decisions for the business and the worker. They can also protect the business from liability. Make sure your organization has current, detailed information, and that you separate it to provide access only where authorized.