Personnel Recordkeeping – a Small Introduction to a Big Process

The employee personnel file is the main employee file that contains the history of the employment relationship from employment application through the termination documentation. The access to the file should be kept strictly to those with a need to view the information, typically human resources and possibly the employee’s immediate manager.

Recordkeeping requirements can be very confusing, given that numerous regulations direct distinct aspects of an employer’s recordkeeping and retention process. What is kept, where should you keep it, and how long should you keep it are just the tip of the iceberg.

Some organizations have an excellent recordkeeping process in place for personnel files, and some haven’t thrown anything away in the last 20 years. Not having the right information in your personnel files can create risk for your organization, but risk can also be created by having the wrong things in personnel files.

The following are just a few of the common items that should be retained by the employer, but kept separate from the personnel file:

  • I-9 forms and copies of identification
  • Investigation notes and reports
  • Drug test and background check results
  • Payroll records containing social security numbers or other protected information, including W-4s and garnishment orders
  • Medical records including medical exams, disability benefits claim forms, notes from doctors, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave records, requests for ADA accommodations, worker’s compensation claims and related documents, EAP referrals, results of drug/alcohol tests, reimbursement requests for medical expenses, health-related information about an employee’s family members, and any documentation about past or present health, medical condition, or disabilities
  • Workers Compensation documentation

Several other items might be found in your employees’ personnel files, so the above list is just a high-level overview and should not be considered all-inclusive. Each item associated with an employee’s file also has different retention periods.

Due to the sensitive nature of the information retained in an employee’s personnel files, and the separate files associated, the files should be retained in an office or file cabinet that can be locked and access restricted. Also, note that the same rules around record security and access apply if you maintain your personnel records electronically.

If you have not reviewed your personnel files, it is a good idea to create a process for completing a file audit and purge regularly.

States also have individual laws that may govern access to and information retained within an employee personnel file. You should make sure you are aware of what is required in your state. The Employers Council Federal Record Retention Guide has been updated for 2020 to include some state-specific content and information for public employers. Attend our “Recordkeeping for HR” class to learn more about compliance, considerations and practices; consult our FYI– Employee File Management for guidance.

Personnel recordkeeping is a complex task that all employers face. Not sure what to keep or what to toss—or where to start? Give us a call. We can help with the answers.