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Real HR Issues – Making Personnel Files your Best Friend instead of your Worst Enemy

Kathryn Carlson /
  • Categories: HR

Article Contributor: Kathryn Carlson

In last month’s Real HR Issues article, I discussed how performance evaluations can be a very powerful tool in helping employees improve their performance, but can also be a smoking gun if poorly orchestrated. Personnel files present the same circumstance: if managed well, good documentation allows you to provide factual information when facing litigation. However, bad or disorganized documentation can be your worst enemy.

Good documentation is completely filled out, clear, non-bias, and objective information. What exactly is bad documentation? Bad documentation is anything that is untruthful, incomplete, or contains bias or inappropriate comments. Having this type of information in your personnel files is something that you would never want discovered in the event of legal litigation. To correctly organize your documentation and keep yourself out of legal hot water, KPA recommends a simple approach: don’t keep just one personnel file, keep a minimum of three.

Breaking the personnel file into three separate files is simple. You can use manila folders, as many HR professionals still do, or you can utilize an electronic option, such as KPA Human Resource Management software. No matter what you choose, the three files should be broken out as follows:

  1. General information files should include anything that pertains to the employees’ day to day job, training, performance, and compliance. The following items should always be kept in the personnel file:
  • Position Job Description
  • Employee Resume
  • Employee Job Application
  • Employment Offer
  • Signed Acknowledgement of Employee Handbook
  • Signed Receipt of Dealership Property
  • Performance Evaluations
  • Employee Benefit Enrollment Forms
  • Emergency Contact Forms
  • Employee Complaints
  • Performance Awards and Training Program Records
  • Attendance Records
  • Employee Termination Files
  1. Medical information files should include anything the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) qualifies as confidential. Medical files should be stored in a locked cabinet that only supervisors may access. Medical files may include:
  • Health insurance application forms
  • Life insurance application forms
  • Applications for any other employee benefit that might require medical information
  • Requests for paid or unpaid medical leaves of absence
  • Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA) reports and related paperwork
  • Physician’s examinations, notes, correspondence, and recommendations
  • Medically-related excuses for absenteeism or tardiness
  • Medical job restrictions
  • Accident and injury reports, including OSHA-required documents
  • Workers’ compensation reports of injury or illness
  • Any other form or document that contains private medical information about an employee
  1. Highly-confidential files should include anything that you would not want discovered by legal professionals in the event of litigation. This includes any records that may have notes written on them that may be misinterpreted. These items include:
  • Interview notes
  • Disciplinary notes
  • Background checks
  • Reference checks
  • Skills and aptitude tests
  • Date of birth
  • Marital status
  • Religious beliefs
  • Social Security information

I-9 forms are often a point of confusion in regards to personnel files. I-9s should all be kept together in their own folder. Best practices suggest that you keep all I-9 forms for current employees in one folder and I-9s for past employees in a separate folder.

To keep your personnel files up to date and compliant, it is best to review them annually to ensure accuracy and completion. To learn more about how to best manage personnel files, view my article in Fixed Ops magazine by clicking here.

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