Personnel Files: What They Should Include

Lisa Riccio

The contents of an employee’s personnel file should provide an accurate and complete history of their employment with your organization.  They are business records, which can be subpoenaed by lawyers for lawsuits and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaints.  With all of the potential uses and potential viewers of these records, it’s important to understand what belongs in the file, and what does not.  Employers must insure that the personnel record is an unbiased, factual documentation of an employee’s employment history.  Consequently, these guidelines may assist you in understanding what should be maintained in your organization’s personnel records.

Information must be factual 

The personnel file is not the place for rumor, opinions, allegations not pursued, or any other commentary or notes.  Files should contain application materials, offer letters, and employment contracts. It should also contain signature pages where the employee has signed off on receiving your employee handbook and has acknowledged receipt of key policies.  The I-9 may be placed in the file; however, it may be advisable to house it separately should your organization be audited.

Performance Documentation

Performance Documentation refers to performance evaluations, disciplinary records, and documentation memorializing official awards or recognition.  Please note that investigatory materials that did not result in discipline should not be included.  Formal counseling memos, letters of warning, and other disciplinary action taken by the employer should be recorded in the file.   Factual documentation about employment decisions such as promotion, transfer to a lateral opportunity, and salary increases belong in the personnel file.

Documentation that should not be included

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) require that all medical documents be filed separately from the personnel record for employers with more than 15 employees.    This information is confidential and may include Worker’s Compensation, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) documents, ADA documents, health insurance, as well as genetic information.

Retaining Specific Documents

  • I-9 forms – Three years from the date of hire or one year after termination, whichever is later (Immigration Reform and Control Act).
  • ADA employment records – One year from the date the record is made or the action described in the record is taken, whichever is later.
  • FMLA records – At least three years and should include requests, leave taken, and notices given to or received from the employee.
  • Timecards – At least four years and should include timecards, schedules, and other documents used to determine wages (NH Admin Rules, Stat. 803).
  • Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) records – six years.

Since 1983, all New Hampshire employees have had the right to access and obtain a copy of their personnel records from their employers.  NH RSA 275:56 also provides an opportunity for the employee to dispute the contents of the personnel file by submitting a written rebuttal which must be retained permanently in their record.

The confidential nature of personnel records demand that they be secured properly and with a defined protocol of access.   Files should not be taken from the secure location; in fact, if a supervisor wishes to review a file, they may do so with a visit to the Human Resources Department.

Lisa Riccio is Human Resources Director for the New Hampshire Local Government Center.  She may be contacted at 800.852.3358 ext. 3344 or at lriccio@nhlgc.org.

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