How Many Files Should Employers Have for Each Employee?

Bev Sinclair, Human Resource Services

The answer is not always simple and candepend upon the organization and who has access to the files. However, there are best practices and guidance for certain records that can assist employers in setting up personnel files.

There are many ways personnel files can be managed. We recommend that employers keep at least four types of files:

1. Individual Employee Personnel File: Generally, this file contains job-related information, such as an employee’s application, performance documentation, salary history, training records, and termination details.

2. HIPAA File: A separate Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) file should be kept for each employee to restrict access to ProtectedHealth Information (PHI). Typically, a HIPAA file contains documents that pertain to a health plan, health insurance enrollment forms, HIPAA authorization forms, and health information relating to a health plan.

3. Medical File: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) imposes strict limits on the use of medical information, and, the ADA Technical Assistance Manual recommends employers keep medical files (for each employee) in a separate, locked cabinet away from personnel files. Medical documentation can be notes from a doctor regarding sick leave, medical certifications, or fitness-for-duty documentation.

4. General HR File: These files are not kept for individual employees. They are typically files that house all information pertaining to a particular topic. For
example, an employer might have one general HR file that contains garnishment information for all employees.

There is no absolute way to keep employee files. Employers should design a
system that works well for them in terms of available resources.

Who has access to the personnel files is another important consideration, not
only because employers are responsible for protecting the private information of employees, but also because managers and supervisors should not have access to information about protected classes, because they make employment-related decisions.

MSEC can assist you in making decisions regarding your personnel files. We have a class on July 11, “Recordkeeping: What, Where, and for How Long?”. We also have recordkeeping information on our website.​