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Keep In a Personnel File?

What Should Employers Keep in an Employee Personnel File?


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It's a good idea for an employer to maintain a personnel file for each employee. Documentation of employment history, records of contribution and achievement, disciplinary notices, promotions, performance development plans, and much more, belong in a personnel file. Smart employers keep more than one personnel file, too.

The employer has good reasons to keep several personnel files - some legal and some for employment best practices purposes. Documentation is needed so the employer has an accurate view of an employee's employment history. Documentation supports the employer's decisions and may protect the employer in a lawsuit - preserved correctly.

Because several types of personnel files are recommended, different rules and guidelines are associated with each personnel file.

  • Each type of personnel file has a different reason for existing and different contents, based on that reason.

  • Each type of personnel file is stored differently.

  • Access to a personnel file is restricted to certain employees in most organizations. Different personnel file types have different access guidelines.

  • Employee access to his or her personnel file is allowed, but most employers set up guidelines for employee access with a personnel file access policy in the employee handbook. (Various states and jurisdictions have different rules, so stay up-to-date.)

  • The Human Resources department "owns" and is responsible for employee personnel files.

Here are the types of personnel files recommended and what you need to know about working with them.

Employee Personnel File

This is the main personnel file an employer maintains for each employee. The personnel file stores the employment history of each employee. This is what you need to know about an employee personnel file.

Medical File

The employee medical file has serious legal restrictions that the employer must know and heed. Here is what you need to know about the confidentiality and contents of an employee medical file.

Payroll File

Employee access to the employee payroll file is less restrictive than access to either the medical or the personnel file. The payroll file holds information about salary, benefits selection, pay rate changes, garnishments, and other legal documentation that affects an employee’s pay check. Various accounting and Human Resources staff access the information in the payroll file.

I-9 Forms File for Employees

Because of access rights of various government agencies, you follow best practice by maintaining a separate file for employee I-9 forms. Find out more about storing I-9 forms.

Overview of Personnel Files

Just want the quick and basic details about employee personnel files? Check here for an overview of employee personnel files.

Personnel File Access Policy for Employees

You want to enable each employee to know what is in his or her personnel file, but you need to control the integrity, completeness, and thoroughness of the file. Maintaining employee and employer confidentiality and limited access are ensured with a personnel file access policy.

What Not to Include in an Employee Personnel File

Looking for guidelines about content that should never be included in an employee personnel file? Here are my best recommendations about the content that you want to maintain either in a separate, informal location or not retain at all. Retention of unneeded and purely opinionated documentation can hurt you.


Do you know what documentation is? The word, documentation, crops up frequently in the world of employment and Human Resources. But, the meaning of documentation and why you might want to document particular employment events is thoroughly covered here. Find out more about documentation.

Disclaimer – Please Note:

Susan Heathfield makes every effort to offer accurate, common-sense, ethical Human Resources management, employer, and workplace advice both on this website, and linked to from this website, but she is not an attorney, and the content on the site, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality, and is not to be construed as legal advice.

The site has a world-wide audience and employment laws and regulations vary from state to state and country to country, so the site cannot be definitive on all of them for your workplace. When in doubt, always seek legal counsel or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct. The information on this site is for guidance, ideas, and assistance only.

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