Employee Personnel File Contents

These Are the Items That Belong in an Employee Personnel File

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The employee personnel file is the main employee file that contains the history of the employment relationship from the employment application through an exit interview and employment termination documentation.

Access to the Employee Personnel File

Only the Human Resources staff and the employee’s immediate supervisor or manager may have access to the information in the employee personnel file, and it never leaves the Human Resources office.

In some companies, access to the file is restricted to the HR staff. In these organizations, supervisors or managers keep their own management file that includes documents they might need to access such as copies of prior performance appraisals.

The requirements vary from state to state, not to mention, internationally, about who has access to the employee's personnel file. In some states, employees have the right to access and even get copies of the information in the personnel file. In others, access is more narrow. The requirements also vary about what the employee can access. Know the rules in the jurisdiction in which you employ people to stay in compliance with your legal requirements.

Generally, you will not want to keep documents in the employee personnel file that the employee does not reasonably have the right to access. You may consider keeping all documents related to background checking, references, interview checklists, and ratings in a separate file that is created to house all of the documents related to a particular recruitment and hiring event.

The employee personnel file is generally stored in a locked, fire-proof file cabinet in a locked location that is accessible to the Human Resources staff. The confidentiality of the employee information in the personnel file is of paramount importance.

Of all the company-kept employee files, the employee personnel file is most frequently accessed day-to-day for information by the employer, supervisor, or Human Resources staff.

Considerations About Employee Personnel File Content

Personnel files usually contain documents that the employee has already reviewed and so he or she is familiar with their content. This includes documents such as job applications, performance evaluations, letters of recognition, training records, and forms that relate to transfers and promotion. 

The fundamental principles and questions to consider when filing any document in an employee personnel file are these.

  • Will the employer need a particular document to justify decisions if the employer was sued? Would the employer need the document in a court of law?
  • Does the employee know and understand that the document will be filed in his or her personnel file? In most cases, employers ought to have the employee sign the document, not to signify agreement with the contents of the document, but to acknowledge that they are aware of and have read the document.
  • No surprises, opinions, or personal notes about the employee should ever be placed in an employee personnel file. Just the facts, no speculative thoughts, belong in an employee personnel file.

Contents of an Employee Personnel File

The following are recommendations about the documentation that an employer should keep in an employee personnel file.

Employment History

  • Job application
  • Resume
  • Resume cover letter
  • Education verification
  • Employment verification
  • Rejection letter
  • Position job description
  • Job analysis records
  • Job offer letter or employment contract
  • Employment agency or temp agency agreement, if used
  • Emergency contact information
  • Signed employee handbook acknowledgment form showing receipt of the employee handbook
  • Checklist from new employee orientation showing topics covered and by whom
  • Any relocation agreements and documentation
  • Any contract, written agreement, receipt, or acknowledgment between the employee and the employer (such as a non-compete agreement, an employment contract, or an agreement relating to a company-provided car)
  • Life of employment official forms including requests for transfer, promotion, internal job applications, and so forth
  • Any other documentation related to employment

Employee Performance Development, Development Plans, and Improvement

  • Copies of any performance appraisal used or employee development plans
  • Employee self-assessments
  • Records from any formal counseling sessions
  • Notes on attendance or tardiness
  • Performance improvement plan documentation
  • Disciplinary action reports
  • Employee recognition presented such as certificates, recognition letters, and so forth
  • Employee formal suggestions and recommendations, organization responses
  • Training records
  • Requests for training
  • Competencies assessments
  • Training class or session notifications or schedules
  • Needs assessments signed
  • Training expense reports
  • Complaints from customers or co-workers that have been discussed with the employee

Employment Termination Records

  • Employee resignation letter
  • Exit interview documentation
  • Cobra notification
  • Employment ending checklist
  • Final accounting for all aspects of the employee's employment such as the final paycheck, vacation pay, the return of company property, and so forth

The Bottom Line

You will want to place in the employee personnel file only documents with which the employee is familiar. If seeing the contents of their file causes an employee surprise, you have not effectively managed the contents of the file.