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Motivating Employees: HR tips for getting employees motivated and engaged with your company.

What Should Employers Keep in an Employee Personnel File?

It's a good idea for an employer to maintain a personnel file for each employee. Documentation of employment history, records of contribution and achievement, disciplinary notices, promotions, performance development plans, and much more, belong in a personnel file. Smart employers keep more than one personnel file, too.

The employer has good reasons to keep several personnel files - some legal and some for employment best practices purposes. Documentation is needed so the employer has an accurate view of an employee's employment history. Documentation supports the employer's decisions and may protect the employer in a lawsuit - preserved correctly.

Because several types of personnel files are recommended, different rules and guidelines are associated with each personnel file.

Each type of personnel file has a different reason for existing and different contents, based on that reason.

Each type of personnel file is stored differently.

Access to a personnel file is restricted to certain employees in most organizations. Different personnel file types have different access guidelines.

Employee access to his or her personnel file is allowed, but most employers set up guidelines for employee access with a personnel file access policy.

The Human Resources department "owns" and is responsible for employee personnel files.

Here are the types of personnel files recommended and what you need to know about working with them


Employee Personnel File

This is the main personnel file an employer maintains for each employee. The personnel file stores the employment history of each employee. The employee personnel file is the main employee file that contains the history of the employment relationship from employment application through exit interview and employment termination documentation. Only Human Resources staff and the employee's immediate supervisor and manager may have access to the information in the employee personnel file, and it never leaves the Human Resources office.

The employee personnel file is generally stored in a locked, fire-proof file cabinet in a locked location that is accessible to Human Resources staff. The confidentiality of the employee information in the employee personnel file is of paramount importance.

Of all the company-kept employee files, the employee personnel file is most frequently accessed day-to-day for information by the employer, supervisor, or Human Resources staff.


Considerations About Employee Personnel File Content

The fundamental principles and questions to consider when filing any document in an employee personnel file are these.

Will the employer need a particular document to justify decisions if the employer was sued? Would the employer need the document in a court of law?

Does the employee know and understand that the document will be filed in his or her personnel file? In most cases, employers ought to have the employee sign the document, not to signify agreement with the contents of the document, but to acknowledge that they are aware of and have read the document.

No surprises, opinions, or personal notes about the employee should ever be placed in an employee personnel file. Just the facts, no speculative thoughts, belong in an employee personnel file.


Contents of an Employee Personnel File

Following are recommendations about the documentation that an employer should keep in an employee personnel file.

  • Employment History
  • Job application
  • Resume
  • Resume cover letter
  • Phone prescreening notes
  • Interview and selection notes
  • Education verification
  • Employment verification
  • Employment and personal reference checks
  • Other background checks and verification
  • Rejection letter
  • Position job description
  • Job analysis records
  • Job offer letter or employment contract
  • Employment agency or temp agency agreement, if used
  • Emergency contact information
  • Self-identification form
  • Signed employee handbook acknowledgment form showing receipt of employee handbook
  • Checklist from new employee orientation showing topics covered and by whom
  • Any relocation agreements and documentation
  • Any contract, written agreement, receipt, or acknowledgment between the employee and the employer (such as a noncompete agreement, an employment contract, or an agreement relating to a company-provided car), for example
  • Life of employment official forms including: requests for transfer, promotion, internal job applications, and so forth
  • Any other documentation related to employment
  • Employee Performance Development and Improvement
  • Copies of any performance appraisal used or employee development plans
  • Employee self-assessments
  • Records from any formal counseling sessions
  • Notes on attendance or tardiness
  • Performance improvement plan documentation
  • Disciplinary action reports
  • Employee assistance referrals
  • Employee recognition presented such as certificates, recognition letters, and so forth
  • Employee formal suggestions and recommendations, organization responses
  • Training records
  • Requests for training
  • Competencies assessments
  • Training class or session notifications or schedules
  • Needs assessments signed
  • Training expense reports
  • Complaints from customers or coworkers
  • Employment Termination Records
  • Employee resignation letter
  • Exit interview documentation
  • Cobra notification
  • Employment ending checklist
  • Final accounting for all aspects of the employee's employment such as final paycheck, vacation pay, return of company property, and so forth.


Payroll File

Employee access to the employee payroll file is less restrictive than access to either the medical or the personnel file. The payroll file holds information about salary, benefits selection, pay rate changes, garnishments, and other legal documentation that affects an employee's pay check. Various accounting and Human Resources staff access the information in the payroll file.


I-9 Forms File for Employees

Because of access rights of various government agencies, you follow best practice by maintaining a separate file for employee I-9 forms. Find out more about storing I-9 forms.


Personnel File Access Policy for Employees

You want to enable each employee to know what is in his or her personnel file, but you need to control the integrity, completeness, and thoroughness of the file. Maintaining employee and employer confidentiality and limited access are ensured with a personnel file access policy.