We all need to be keeping personnel files for each of our employees. But what do we put in them? How do we organize them? Here’s our recommendations on what to keep, where to keep it, and why.
You should be keeping three files on each employee. Why three? Because you need to have one file that management can access, and another file that protects an employee’s confidential information that you are required to keep, and finally a file for medical information.
You may be thinking…that sounds like a lot of work! Let’s look at an example that will demonstrate why you need three files.
Two employees are being considered for a promotion. Imagine that you are keeping all records in the same file. The manager in charge of the promotion looks through both employee files, looking for job history, performance reviews, and experience prior to being hired. These are all good things to consider when deciding to promote. Mixed in with those files, though, are files related to one of the employee’s request for family medical leave needed to take care of a sick child. Now imagine that, for completely legitimate business reasons, you denied the promotion to the employee who had a sick child. Of course you didn’t deny the promotion because of the sick child, but you have now left the impression that it could be that you may have.
You don’t want to be in the position of having to defend that your manager’s decisions were based on anything but business reasons. If the medical information was kept in a file that was separate from the basic information, no one could claim that the manager based his or her decision on that confidential information.
What should be included in a basic personnel file:
Records about the job:
So that you can get to what you’re looking for quickly (especially true with a long-term employee!), you’ll want to organize the basic file. It is helpful to keep things in three sections:
You should also maintain a confidential file for each employee. No one should be allowed access to this file without a need to know. A log should be kept of who examined the file and why. Confidential personnel files need to be in a locked drawer behind a locked door. That is, in a file cabinet that locks in a room that is also locked. If you keep these files digitally, they should be password protected and encrypted
What should be included in a confidential personnel file:
You should also maintain a medical file for each employee. This should be also be kept in a locked drawer behind a locked door. If you keep these files digitally, they should be password protected and encrypted.
What should be included in a medical personnel file:
Some things shouldn’t be kept at all. You don’t want to maintain records about employees that have nothing to do with their job. If you do, and those records become part of a lawsuit, it is likely that someone (a judge or jury) will believe that you were making decisions about employees based on protected characteristics. Protected characteristics are those things that, under the law, you may not consider when making an employment decision. Examples of protected characteristics include things like race, marital status, or religion.
What shouldn’t be in a personnel file at all:
You’ll find that getting organized is the key to staying organized. If you are required to present information in response to a law suit, you will appear more credible if you are organized and thorough. You will be better able to defend your business decisions. All businesses have the potential to face litigation, and you’ll be glad to offer a professional, businesslike response when asked to produce your records.
You’ll also be able to make employment decisions efficiently and fairly when you can access all of the information you need. The people on your team are the most important part of your organization. Their records should reflect that!