Issue: Maintaining personnel files is a chore, but it's the most important element in defending lawsuits and regulatory claims.
Risk: Failing to organize your files correctly exposes you to civil and criminal penalties.
Action: Keep at least two separate files for each employee. Check the list below to see what goes in each.
Both federal laws and state laws require your company to maintain various types of employment records. Plus, you must keep certain records separate from personnel files to protect confidential information and to prevent employees from claiming that access to certain information exposed them to retaliation or other illegal job actions.
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Best bet: Maintain two separate files for each employee. Here's what to put in each:
Main personnel file. One file should contain employees' personnel-related records and information that can be viewed by the employee. This can include:
- Job application and résumé
- Employment contract
- Employee acknowledgment forms for handbook and policies
- Payroll authorization forms
- Direct deposit authorization
- Employee benefit and enrollment forms
- Personnel change forms, such as changes in pay, title, seniority
- Commendations and disciplinary notices
- Notice of union requirements
- Performance evaluations
- Notices of termination, layoff, leaves of absence
- Records of property assigned to the employee, such as pagers or credit cards
- Records of references provided after the worker's termination
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Second file. The other file should be a limited-access administrative file that contains confidential or sensitive information:
- Form I-9 work verification data
- Survey of ethnic, disabled or veteran status
- Records of grievances or complaints affecting employment status
- Workers' compensation claims
- Discrimination charges and related documents filed with EEOC or state agencies
- Medical information
- Work restrictions or accommodation requests
- Harassment investigation results
- Confidential references
- Wage garnishment information
- Domestic violence information
- Any information that could be defamatory or is not job-related
What's up? Docs!
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- Benefits. Including dozens of documents on COBRA, ERISA, FMLA, HIPAA and more.
- Discipline and Performance Issues. Absenteeism, employee attitudes and complaints, performance appraisals (27 documents here alone), substance abuse and theft.
- Discrimination. ADA, ADEA, EPA, sexual harassment, Title VII and discrimination based on national origin, race, religion and sex.
- Hiring. Includes background checks, conviction records, employee orientation, applications, contracts, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), interviewing, pre-employment testing, job listings, references and how to respond to applicants.
- Leave. This subject has gotten tricky. We help you cope with general leave, FMLA and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).
- Payroll and Compensation. Management of payroll, expense reimbursement, compensation and independent contractors (be careful with that last one or you risk big fines and legal damages).
- Record-keeping Documents. This section tells you what you're required to keep, then helps you do it, from the company property checklist to an employee's request to inspect a personnel file.
- Termination. There's plenty of HR tension around this subject. Reduce it with proper documentation on notifications, reductions in force, layoffs, releases, procedures and exit interviews. Also, employment at will, an important right you and your organization need to protect.