Get your employee files under control

employees personnel filesEmployee files can be one of the most complicated to manage. They comprise a wide range of information with varying degrees of retention, confidentiality, accessibility, and security. It is common to find the following types of records in employee files: résumé, offer letter (copy), performance reviews, medical records, disciplinary actions, health forms, emergency contacts, short-term/long-term leave documents, vacation requests, time sheets, compensation and tax forms.

To further complicate matters, not all records need to be kept for the same length of time. Typically records detailing the actual terms and performance of employment can be destroyed a few years after the employment is terminated. Similarly, most tax documents can be destroyed after 6–7 calendar years.

Whereas records related to pensions or injury/accident claims would need to be kept for much longer. Injuries can persist for a long time and sometimes resurface years later. Due to this risk factor, it is recommended in many jurisdictions to retain these documents for long periods of time, sometimes even for decades. This is similar to the rationale behind keeping pension records for long periods of time, which may not be needed for decades, based on the employee’s age.

One strategy for managing employee files effectively is to keep records together by employee name (or number, ID, etc.), but separated by document type and retention (i.e., how long to keep the records). For example, keep performance evaluations together, but separated from other documents. This makes it easier to manage the file over time and also to locate the documents. Additionally, any records related to the health of the employee (e.g., disability records or injury claims) should be kept separate because they have a higher level of confidentiality and must be kept for longer periods of time.

In many organizations the employee file is shared between payroll and human resources, creating an instant relationship between the two departments. This can become more difficult to manage when HR is also decentralized, or some employee records are managed locally, because it means the records exist in more than two places. From a RIM (records and information management) perspective, this means systems must exist to handle the creation and transfer of information from one place to another in a way that is reliable, confidential and timely.

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One strategy for dealing with this challenge is to create a uniform system to be used by all departments responsible for managing employee records. For example, time sheets may be managed locally, while payroll and HR are handled centrally. Ensure that each department knows how to describe, organize, protect and share employee records. Additionally, other departments (e.g., IT) may need to have access to employee records at different points in time, such as when an employee arrives or departs.


Lisa Ricciuti is a records expert, trainer, speaker and founder of Smart Info Management Services (