One of the first things we do when beginning an HR Audit for one of our clients is request to see a sampling of their employees’ files. Over the years, we’ve seen all sorts of things stuffed between the covers: Pictures of an employee’s family taken at the company picnic, handwritten notes complaining about the obnoxious co-worker in the next cubicle, drug test results, and EOBs from a pregnant staff member’s last pre-natal visit. Performance Reviews, undated and unsigned, are commonly crammed in between the I-9 form and requests for time off (again, either not dated or for leave that was denied ten years ago). There are stringent guidelines for what goes into an employee file—and what should stay out! Are your employee files in compliance?
Whether a business has one employee or 250 employees, business owners need to be concerned with the creation and maintenance of employee personnel files. What types of information goes into an employee file? What doesn’t?
The first thing to remember is that you should only keep documents in an employee’s file that the employee is fully aware of; they have the right to access their file. If it doesn’t apply to this rule, it probably has no business being there!
Items that can be considered as needed for employment-related decisions include an up to date record of the employee’s personal information. It is important to keep these records current. We advise our clients to remind their employees on a consistent basis to keep them informed if there are any changes in their address, phone number, or other personal information. In addition to the employee’s current personal information, other documents which should normally be in the file include the employment application, current job description, performance evaluations, employment status change forms, compensation information, job related test results, benefit plan elections (but no health records), attendance and leave records and disciplinary actions.
However, not all documents related to employees should go into the main personnel files. What needs to be filed elsewhere? Because of federal and state guidelines concerning the confidentiality of health information, remember that all medical and other health related documents must be kept in a separate file. I-9 immigration forms and EEOC information must also be kept separately in their own files away from the employee personnel records. Also, garnishment information should be kept with your payroll records, not in employee files. Please see our checklist on page three for further details of what items not to include in an employee’s record.
Employee files should be kept in a secure area where only those supervisors and managers who have a real ‘need to know’ are provided access. Confidentiality should never be taken lightly, and it is vital to keep employee information in a safe place.
Many states have laws that dictate what access the employee can have to their files and for how long after their employ they can request copies of its contents. Federal law provides employees the legal right to review records concerning employees’ exposure to toxic substances and any related medical records.
Typical items included in an Employee Personnel File:
Employee Personal Data Information including address, phone number, emergency information, date of birth, and social security number
Employment Application and resume
Academic Transcripts (if applicable)
Job-related test results
Benefit Plan elections
Authorization for payroll deductions/withholding
Signed Job description(s)
Individual employment contract(s)
Acknowledgement and waiver forms
Education and training class records
License information if applicable to job
Signed Performance Evaluations
Awards and honors
Disciplinary actions or complaints
Items to keep separately, each in their own file:
Drug and/or alcohol testing
Workers’ compensation forms, reports, correspondence, and documents
Investigation notes files
OSHA health and safety records
Exit interview information
Garnishment and child support payment information