The end of the year is a great time to review your employee records and files. In addition to making sure that you’re keeping any records that may be required by law, you should be sure to update any information that has changed and get rid of any documents that no longer need to be retained. The guidelines below can help you get organized.
1. Determine which records you need to maintain. Employers may be required to keep certain types of records, such as payroll records and tax records, for a specified period of time in order to comply with federal and/or state law. Other documentation may be important to support disciplinary action or a termination. The following are some examples of the types of records a personnel file may include:
- Basic Information: Employee’s full name, social security number, address, and birth date.
- Hiring Documents: Job descriptions, employment applications, and resumes.
- Job Performance and Development: Performance evaluations, disciplinary letters, awards, promotion records, and records of education or trainings.
- Compensation: Forms W-4, payroll records, and time cards for prior year(s).
- Termination and Post-Employment Information: Exit interview forms and a record of documents provided to the employee along with the final paycheck (e.g., termination letter, benefits notices, and unemployment compensation forms).
2. Consider which documents need to be kept in a confidential file. It’s a good idea (and in certain instances may be legally required) to keep certain employee records and information in a confidential file separate from the personnel file. Examples of records that should be kept in a separate, confidential file include medical records, Forms I-9, wage garnishment documentation, and documents pertaining to sensitive matters, such as harassment investigation records.
3. Make sure you have a policy in place that outlines the procedures for how your company will manage employee records and files. At a minimum, your policy should:
- Clearly state which records to maintain and how long certain documents should be kept.
- Require that all employee records be maintained in a locked cabinet or office. The policy should also identify those individuals who are authorized to access personnel and confidential files, and ensure that safeguards are in place that restrict access to those individuals only.
- Define the specific circumstances by which an employee may access or copy files. Keep in mind that some states require employers to provide employees with access to their files (or to certain information contained in the file). Files should be accessed under supervision of management.
- Develop procedures for handling third party requests for disclosure of employee information, including what information may be released. Consider obtaining the employee’s prior written authorization to release such information.
Ensure that a proper procedure is in place for disposing of employee records in accordance with any applicable federal or state laws.