Personnel Records: What Goes Where

Laura Gerdes Long

By Laura Gerdes Long

Confusion abounds when it comes to deciding which employee personnel records go where, who can access which records and who cannot, and how records should be segregated. Human resource employees have long understood that an employee’s workers’ compensation records should be segregated from the employee’s typical personnel file containing such things as an application for employment, resume and salary change forms.

For the small employer, however, these kinds of decisions must be addressed by management, who may not always be experienced in the nuances of human resource law. In essence, three files should be maintained for each employee:

1. The personnel file contains new hire and termination information, change forms, performance documentation and miscellaneous information such as requests to inspect employee files, underemployment claims, training courses, and achievements.

2. The confidential file contains information such as references, background investigations, financial obligations, settlement agreements, and EEO data. Information not specifically related to employee wage and hour status or job performance should be scrutinized to determine whether it reveals any private facts about an individual. If it does, it should be placed in this file rather than the Personnel File. This could include:

  • health-related documentation (not related to the health plan), e.g., injury reports, requests for reasonable accommodation, FMLA forms, fitness for duty, post-offer medical information, workers’ compensation injury forms and reports, disability leave documentation, and self-identification of disability;
  • financial information, including W-4’s (federal and state), direct deposit authorization, payroll corrections, requests for verification of employment, wage attachments, credit reports, and retiree insurance premium agreements; and
  • miscellaneous information, including settlement, arbitration and dispute agreements and decisions; EEO complaints or other information; investigation interview notes; grievances; affirmative action; reference and background check forms; interview evaluation, skills or personality tests, funeral and jury duty notices.

3. The Confidential Protected Health Information (“PHI”) file, includes all the information pertaining to the health plan(s) offered by the employer, including, self-insured health plans, flexible spending accounts (for medical and prescription) and cafeteria plans:

  • benefits enrollment forms;
  • benefits change forms;
  • benefits claim forms;
  • dependent and beneficiary designations;
  • insurance waivers;
  • open enrollment forms;
  • COBRA documentation;
  • health care provider certification;
  • voluntary medical information; and
  • authorization to release information (preemployment).

Drug and alcohol tests should be filed in a separate binder, not with any other information, segregated by current and separated status. Form I-9’s should also be filed in a separate binder, segregated by current and separated status.

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