Human Resources Q & A of the Day

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Question:


Should an employee’s background check, interview notes, and benefit information be kept separate from the personnel file?

Answer:


As a best practice (and in certain instances it is legally required), employers should keep certain employee records and information in a confidential file separate from the personnel or employee file. Below is general best practice guidance regarding personnel and confidential files and recordkeeping you may find useful.

Personnel Files

A personnel file may contain documents that fall into one of the following categories of records (note that a Social Security number should not be accessible via the personnel file and is a good indicator that the document should be filed elsewhere):

  • Basic Information. This category includes personal information such as the employee’s full name, address, and emergency contact information.
  • Hiring Documents. Many employers retain documents related to the hiring process, including signed job descriptions, employment applications, and resumes. (Note that other recruiting documents are typically retained in a recruitment file along with information about other candidates, indicating why one candidate was selected over others as well as other information regarding the hiring process.)
  • Job Performance and Development. This is a broad category that may encompass documents such as performance evaluations and supervisory or management notes regarding performance issues; corrective action or disciplinary letters; awards, nominations, and other commendation letters; promotion records; and records of trainings or education.
  • Employment-Related Agreements. Any aspect of the employment relationship which is governed by an agreement between the parties, such as an employment agreement, union contracts, noncompetition agreement, confidentiality or nondisclosure agreement, should be kept in the personnel file.
  • Compensation. This category includes documents related to compensation and relevant changes to an employee’s pay and position for future reference. (Payroll records should be retained by the payroll department or in a separate file along with Forms W-4, garnishment documentation, time records, absences, etc.).
  • Termination and Post-Employment Information. Information related to an employee’s termination should be kept on file should a dispute later arise. Compile all documents and retain in archive including exit interview forms (if applicable) and any final employee performance appraisal, as well as a record of documents provided to the employee along with the final paycheck (e.g., termination letter, benefits notices, unemployment compensation forms, etc.).

Confidential Files — Keep Separate from the Personnel File

As stated previously, it is a best practice (and in certain instances a legal requirement) to keep certain employee records and information in a confidential file separate from the personnel file, such as the following:

  • Medical benefit records and documents that relate to an injury or disability.
  • Material relating to workers’ compensation claims.
  • Family and medical leave documents.
  • Employment verification information.
  • Wage garnishment documentation.
  • Forms W-4, if not maintained in payroll.
  • Documents pertaining to sensitive matters, such as harassment investigation records or any information pertaining to an employee’s religion (such as a request for Jewish holidays off as a reasonable accommodation).
  • I-9 documents must be maintained in a separate file or binder for all active and inactive employees until appropriate destroy dates are met.

Some employers may also retain aptitude test scores, background check results, and credit reports in the employee’s confidential file, though it is recommended that documents relative to a hiring decision should also be retained in the recruiting file, yet still maintain protection of private information (i.e. date of birth and Social Security number).

 

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