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Clear the Clutter with Organized, Efficient Recordkeeping

When you’re running a business and managing employees, the number of personnel records you generate is staggering. And all those personnel forms and other paperwork can consume much of your time and workspace if you don’t stay on top of it. Even if you use an electronic employee record keeping program, you can end up with too much data, lost information, or employee records that aren’t properly sorted and secured.

With these practical tips and tools for setting up personnel files, you’ll always have what you need when you need it, at your fingertips, whether you use paper personnel file folders or the latest employee recordkeeping software.

How to organize personnel files

Certain employee records are a must for any business. The primary files you need in any employee recordkeeping system are:

Basic personnel file — How do you decide what to put in personnel folders? Remember this quick rule of thumb: Keep items that were a factor in the employee’s hiring and employment in the past, and items that will have an impact on his or her employment in the future. For example:

  • Resume, references and employment application
  • Copy of original job description
  • Form W-4
  • Employee evaluation forms, including performance reviews and self-evaluation forms
  • Health and retirement benefits records
  • Documentation related to salary increases and promotions
  • Documentation related to disciplinary action, including all employee warning notices

Employee medical folders — Put everything relating to an employee’s medical history in a separate file. Why? You can’t legally base personnel decisions like who gets promoted and who doesn’t on the medical histories of the people involved. And various privacy laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require that you keep confidential employee medical records separate from basic personnel files.

Employee injury and safety folders — Maintain a third file within your employee record keeping system for any employee who is injured while on the job. That file should contain Workers’ Compensation claim records and injury reports, and any additional medical records on the injury. You should also keep employee safety training, safety violations and other related material as a part of this recordkeeping process.

Payroll records file — If you handle payroll for your organization, separate payroll-related records from the other files. Make sure you’re aware of the laws governing payroll record retention. Keep close tabs on vacation, sick time and other time-off records.

I-9 file — Employment law attorneys recommend that you keep all Form I-9s (Employment Eligibility Verification) in either a separate master file or three ring binder. Since I-9 files are subject to unique personnel records retention laws, a separate master file or three ring binder will help ensure that you retain these mandated personnel forms for as long as is necessary and can readily discard them after the retention period expires.

Keep records away from prying eyes - personnel files and the law

Personnel folders, employment records and employee medical records should be securely stored at all times. You don’t want another employee to sneak a peek at a file that is lying on your desk. But don’t keep files totally off limits, either. Most states have laws allowing employees access to their own personnel records. This is beneficial for a number of reasons.

  • First, employees can make sure factual information like a Social Security numbers is correct.

  • Second, allowing controlled access to your employee recordkeeping system fosters good relations between workers and management. If you restrict access, you may arouse suspicions about what’s in the file.

  • Finally, permitting access keeps you honest. You’ll do a better job ensuring there’s nothing in the file that hasn’t already been communicated to the employee, not to mention anything illegal (like observations about off hours activities or anything discriminatory).

Create an employee records privacy policy

  • Create a policy for your employee record keeping system that spells out who can see which records, when, where, how, and how often. Make sure the policy is in accordance with state and federal laws.

  • When employees want to view their personnel records, have them make an appointment. You want them handle personnel file folders only in your presence to ensure they don’t add or take anything out of the file.

  • Employees rarely ask to look at their medical files, but let them if they want to. There shouldn’t be anything in the file they don’t know about. Note: While management does not have the right to review an employee’s medical record, the ADA offers an exception: “Supervisors and managers may be informed regarding necessary restrictions on the work or duties of the employee and necessary accommodations.”

  • When you give an employee’s personnel file to someone outside the HR department, make sure it’s on a need-to-know basis. And keep track of who requested it, when you delivered it and when it was returned. If necessary, remind the manager to maintain confidentiality. If the file is not returned, go back to the requestor a few days later to ensure the file is still in his or her possession and that it’s in a secure, private location. Or even better, have managers review the employee’s records in the HR office, to ensure that nothing is lost or changed without your knowledge.

Final tip on how to organize personnel file folders

File all pertinent documents that come into your office in a timely manner. Whenever you’re in a personnel file folder, take a few minutes to make sure all documents are up to date. Before you dispose of any material from a personnel folder, check your state’s employee record retention laws. In other words, take control of the paperwork before it takes control of you!