Employee Personnel Files – What To Keep and For How Long?

Employee Documentation and Record KeepingRecord keeping plays an important role in the administration of any organization. It assists in managing human resources and helps prove compliance with government regulations. It also provides the documentation to defend—and even drive—employment decisions. Employers are well aware that various laws require them to keep records covering employment decisions and actions, but how long they are to be kept varies and can be confusing.

Who Should Have Access?

Retention can range depending on the documents from 1 to 30 years, but good judgment and sound business practice may suggest that certain records should be retained longer.

Records should be stored in a safe and secure place so that only authorized personnel have access to them. Just because someone is a supervisor or a manager does NOT mean they should have access to all documents.  In addition, certain files must be separate from personnel files, such as payroll and medical records.  Especially sensitive documents, such as disciplinary actions and investigation information regarding any unlawful or sexual harassment complaints, should be kept secured and apart from normal personnel files with very restrictive access.

Since many employment records contain personal or confidential information about employees and the organization, they need to be discarded properly. Paper records should be shredded or burned and computer files completely erased.

New Hire Applications and Paperwork

When a company seeks to hire an applicant, specific state and federal laws apply to the hiring process. In fact, multiple governmental agencies such as Title VII, FEHA, ADA, and ADEA drive the requirements for handling hiring records. If you specifically advertise for a position, online, in the paper or internally, you must keep copies of ALL ads run, all applications and resumes received in response to the ads whether they are paper or electronic form, and all evaluations of each interview for a period of 2 years.

If you do not hire the individual, all these records must be kept in an applicant file.  The easiest filing format is by month and year.  This way, as the two-year demarcation point passes, you can pull the entire month and shred it. If you do hire the individual, this information should go to the individual’s personnel file.

Personnel files

Employee personnel files contain generic information about the individual, the job and all associated trainings, and interactions in the life cycle of the employee. It is not uncommon that different areas of record keeping overlap, such as a request for reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Never keep details regarding the request in the personnel files, but rather reserve the detailed information for the employee’s medical or health files. We will discuss overlapping record keeping in future posts.

The following records must be kept for a period of TWO years:
•    Hiring Records
•    Applications, resumes
•    Pre-employment tests, reference checks
•    Evaluations of interviews
•    Ads for open positions (external)
•    Internal postings of open positions
•    Job orders submitted to employment agencies
•    Applicant file or personnel files

Again, there are state and federal agencies including Title VII, FEHA, ADA, and ADEA that drive these requirements. The personnel files must be kept for a period of TWO years after the end of the employment relationship in a very secured location.

•    Employee Personnel Files
•    Job title, description and classification
•    Offer letter
•    Promotions, demotions, and performance evaluations
•    Training, testing including certificates
•    Disciplinary notices, attendance records
•    Discharge, transfer, lay-off and recall files
•    Acknowledgments of policy, handbook
•    Request for reasonable accommodations

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your employee files record keeping, feel free to contact us. CPEhr’s Human Resources Consulting team is available to work on-site to conduct a complete audit of your documentation and record keeping practices.