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Maintaining a useful, and legally compliant, employee file requires understanding of what should not be in the file as much as it does what should. Good employee files have all necessary and proper information, separated where required, and are free from extraneous materials that could provide the basis for discrimination or other employee claims. Good employee files are regularly reviewed and updated to assure that information is complete and accurate. Good employee files are kept in a locked area, with only "needs to know" access, to assure employee privacy.
The term "personnel file" is often used loosely to describe all files pertaining to an employee.
But, a "personnel file" is really several different files, each serving a different purpose. The "employee history file" documents the employee's history, including hiring, changes in status (promotions, demotions, discharge), performance appraisals, training and development, and other documents related to job performance. A "payroll" or "salary history" file documents changes in salary, tax status, attendance, and authorizations for payroll actions. Documents pertaining to benefits comprise a third file. While these files can be combined, misfiling and improper use of information, and potential employee-privacy violations, are minimized by separation.
Other information should never be included in "personnel files", including medical records, background investigation records and reports.
What IS In A Good Employee File
"Employee History File"
Wage or Salary History File
What Is NOT In A Good Employee File
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) requires employers and health care providers to protect the confidentiality of medical records, including separate maintenance from other business records. As a practical matter, not only should certain medical information be excluded from employee files, medical information received should be kept in a separate file and separate locked file area.
Employment Eligibility Verification (I-9). Keep I-9 forms for all employees in one file to protect employee privacy in the event of government inspection.
Accusations of discrimination made by or against the employee and records concerning the investigation of those complaints. This applies whether the complaint is internal or from a federal or state agency.
About the Author
Beth Eagleson, Esq., is a sole practitioner in San Clemente, California. Her area of practice is general civil litigation, with an emphasis in employment law. She advises and litigates for individuals, businesses, and corporations in Southern California. Ms. Eagleson founded the employment law practice at San Diego Gas & Electric Company, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, a Fortune 500 company. Ms. Eagleson is a speaker on employment law for the Orange County Bar Association, and is a member of the ABA (Labor and Employment Law Section; General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division), San Diego County Bar Association, and the Warren G. Ferguson Inn of Court.