Employee personal records – what should and should not be included


As any HR professional will attest, managing the lifecycle of every employee involves a fair amount of paperwork. Knowing what to keep and the location of each document is essential for easy retrieval and for maintaining compliance with government and industry regulations.

Setting up employee personnel files is an important part of the record keeping process. However, people sometimes mistakenly think that these files are a catch-all for an individual’s paperwork. This is not the case.

Instead, understand that general personnel records serve a separate purpose. Although there may be discrepancies between companies, some documents generally belong to these files and others do not.

What to include in an employee’s personnel file

Think of an employee’s personnel file as a history of the individual’s working relationship with the company. The material included extends from initial application to departure from the organization. New, existing, and past employees all have personal employee records (with varying content).

Thinking what belongs in there, the Human Resource Management Company suggests the following:

“Consider if the document would be relevant to a supervisor who might review this file when making employment decisions. Is it related to the performance, knowledge, skills, abilities or behavior of the employee? If so, the document should be included in the employee’s general personnel file. »

To that end, items frequently found in these files include:

  • Job application

  • Cover letter

  • resume

  • Recruitment and screening documents

  • Pedagogical transcript

  • Training records

  • job description

  • job offer letter

  • Employment contract

  • Non-competition agreement

  • Acknowledgment of employee handbook (When the company revises its handbook, provide a new version to all employees and have them sign a new acknowledgment of receipt and understanding.)

  • Employment contracts, such as confidentiality

  • Agreements related to the use of a company car or business credit card

  • Records relating to promotion, demotion, transfer or termination

  • Annual performance reviews and similar formal performance evaluations

  • PIP (Performance Improvement Plans)

  • Letters of Recognition and Awards

  • Disciplinary Actions, Notices and Warnings

  • Termination documents

  • Exit interview

personnel-files-450x350pxThings that should not be in an employee’s personnel file

There are many other employee records that employers often file elsewhere. These documents are usually those that contain sensitive or confidential information. Some records are even prohibited by federal law from being put in a personal file. For example, employers cannot include medical information in an employee’s general personnel file due to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

So employers create a variety of other files to hold things that shouldn’t be included in an employee’s personnel file. Some of the most common types of these files are:

Medical records for documents related to:

  • Personal medical information

  • Requests for sick leave

  • Documents relating to the Family and Medical Leave Act

  • Reasonable accommodation

  • Doctor’s Notes

  • Accident reports

  • Workers Compensation Claims

  • Health insurance forms

  • Beneficiary information

  • Emergency contacts

Note that employers who are required to encourage applicants and employees to self-identify as a person with a disability under Article 503 of the Rehabilitation Law should keep these self-identification forms separate from all other records, including other medical records.

In addition, many employers who offer group health insurance plans are subject to confidentiality obligations under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Find out about these requirements from the Ministry of Health and Social Services HIPAA website.

Confidential files for records containing information such as:

  • Date of Birth

  • Marital status

  • Dependent information

  • Social Security number

  • Immigration status

  • Reference and background check results

  • Employment Verification Requests

  • Drug test results

  • Self-identification (religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, race)

  • Criminal history

  • Child Support/Seizures

  • Acts of litigation

Payroll records to get money or payroll information, such as:

Again, note that not all companies will organize their different file types in the same way. It is good as long as the process is organized, systematic and – above all – legal. Keep a close eye on what is not usually put in an employee’s general personnel file versus what is prohibited by law.

Keep I-9 forms in a separate file

HR experts generally recommend keeping Form I-9 — also known as the Employment Eligibility Verification Form — separate from all other records. Some employers choose to collect them all in one filing cabinet and file them alphabetically by last name, perhaps keeping separate filing cabinets for current and former employees.

You must keep a Form I-9 on file for each employee on your payroll. Only when an employee stops working for you should you calculate how long you need to keep their Form I-9. Federal regulations state that you must keep an I-9 form for each person you hire for three years after the date of hire or one year after the date of termination, whichever is later.


A Form I-9 confirms the identity and employment authorization of each employee. Although I-9 forms are not filed with the federal government, authorized officials of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Labor (DOL), or Department of Justice (DOJ) may request them. see. Thus, employers must be prepared to produce accurate and complete I-9 forms that prove identity and legal work status.


The physical or electronic storage of employee personnel records depends on each organization. Safety should be the primary concern, regardless of the method. Companies that use physical files typically keep them in a locked, fireproof filing cabinet in a dry area accessible to human resources personnel and away from unauthorized personnel. Cloud documents benefit from an encrypted service and careful control of who has access to login information. Additionally, digital files are more secure in the unlikely event of flooding, fire, or other damage to facilities.

Federal and state laws regarding employee personal records

As mentioned earlier regarding Form I-9, government entities require employers to keep certain records for specified periods of time. Effective HR departments keep abreast of relevant federal and state regulations regarding retention. With the help of legal, IT and other departments, they create a written document document retention policy. This policy clarifies what should be backed up, where and for how long. Thoughtful and standardized records management makes it easier to find different employee records and gives credibility in the eyes of third parties such as auditors and lawyers.

Can workers consult their own personal file if they wish?

The answer depends on each state’s law. Currently, “right to see” states – those that allow employees to see all or part of their personnel file documents – include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin. Visit the website of the each state’s department of labor for more information.

Note, however, that the content of this employee file should not surprise the viewer. Instead, the folder typically contains documents that the employee has previously viewed. In fact, many items should contain a signature from the employee acknowledging that they have seen and reviewed them.


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