On Friday I cleaned out all of my files. I went through every folder and made decisions to save, shred and recycle. It felt good to purge duplicate documents, outdated information and reorganize a bit for easier access. It’s a great time of year to tackle all of your business files. Employee personnel files are a good place to start.
Personnel files can contain a wealth of valuable information but can also be stuffed with unnecessary items and documents that shouldn’t be kept at all or belong in separate locations for legal reasons. I have looked at fat files that include 20 years of vacation requests and multiple copies of emails that describe promotions and transfers. There are frequently more than a few surprises in personnel files; a list of references for multiple employees, an I-9 form that clearly indicates the employee is not eligible to work in the US and confidential information about participation in a drug rehab program. To save you time and headaches I have put together some basic guidelines for your personnel files.
Do Keep the Following in Personnel Files:
Information about the employee
- Resume or application for employment
- Reference checks
- Emergency contact information
- Address and telephone number
- Offer letter
Information related to job performance
- Disciplinary action
- Thank you notes and letters from pleased customers, vendors, etc.
- Lateness/absence tracking
- Acknowledgment/receipt of employee handbook
Information about the job the employee performs
- New-hire forms
- Results or records of training
- Records of company-issued property
- Copies of required licenses and certifications
- Records of increases, promotions, and incentives or awards
The Following Items Should Never be Kept in Personnel Files:
- Claims of discrimination
- EEOC records
- I-9 forms and back up information
- Information about employee assistance
- Medical information
Any items that do not relate directly to an individual’s employment, such as: Information about religious or political beliefs or outside activities, credit check results, criminal background check results and drug testing results.
An effective review will start with a list of all active employees. This is a good way to find files in the wrong location and identify missing files. Conduct a thorough search for missing files to ensure that personal information is not exposed and create a new file if the original is not found.
Reviewing and cleaning out personnel files can be a great project for an intern. This is a good time of year to find a college student with a few weeks off before they return to school. Make certain that they understand the confidential nature of the information when you assign the task and the importance of securing employee information. Shred or destroy any information removed from files that contains sensitive or personal data. The 10 page copy of safety rules from 1988 can be tossed into the recycling bin after you should shred the 5 year old enrollment form for a medical plan you no longer offer.
Create separate files for all of the benefits information that is removed from personnel files. I’ll describe the guidelines for these in another post. When personnel files are cleaned up it will be easier to find information and you can use clearer guidelines for future filing.