What Goes in an Employee File?

Whether you have two employees or 200, maintaining personnel files is essential to your company’s record-keeping strategy.  Over the course of a worker’s tenure at your company, you will need to retain possibly dozens of workplace documents.  These documents will range from governmental forms, to company policy acknowledgements, to records about an employee’s performance.

So how do you know what should go into an employee file – and what shouldn’t?

What to Include

The Society for Human Resources Management published the following list of employee records that should be kept in personnel files.

  • Compensation information
  • Demotion letters
  • Disciplinary documents
  • Education and training records
  • Educational transcripts
  • Employee handbook and policy acknowledgement forms
  • Employment applications
  • Job descriptions
  • Job offers
  • Layoff notices
  • Letters of recommendation and awards
  • Non-compete, non-disclosure, and confidentiality agreements
  • Performance evaluation and goal-setting records
  • Promotion letters
  • Resumes
  • Termination notices and documentation
  • Transfer records

What NOT to Include

Some documents should be maintained separately from the personnel file, because information contained in them could be the basis of discrimination claims if it is used to deny promotions, raises, or workplace assignments.

Medical Records

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from including medical information in an employee’s general personnel file.  The Act states:

“…information obtained regarding the medical condition or history of the applicant is collected and maintained on separate forms and in separate medical files and is treated as a confidential medical record.” 

Simply put, medical records must be maintained separately from personnel files.

Form I-9

The U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS), a Division of the Department of Homeland Security, requires that workers complete the “Employment Eligibility Verification” form, also known as the Form I-9.  USCIS has specific retention guidelines relating to the retention of the form.

“Forms I-9 should be maintained separately from employee personnel files. Most often, I-9s are maintained in a file (electronic or hard copy) or binder that is accessible only to a few individuals in the human resource department. Supervisors or managers should not have regular access to I-9 forms and documents because national origin, immigration status, marital status and other protected information may be disclosed on these forms or in the documents provided for their completion.”

Confidential Records

In addition to personnel files, I-9 files, and medical files, employers should maintain confidential files.  Records in these file contain highly-sensitive information that should not be accessible to managers and supervisors.  These files include:

  • Affirmative action self-identification of race, gender, and veteran status
  • Child support/garnishment notices
  • Drug test results
  • Employment/payroll verification requests
  • Equal employment opportunity (EEO) self-identification of gender and race/ethnicity
  • Litigation documents
  • Reference/background check results
  • W-4 form
  • Workplace investigation records

Some states have stricter retention guidelines.  Contact your state’s Department of Labor to determine its laws regarding personnel file retention guidelines.