If you employ people, you’re almost certainly going to have personnel records. These histories may contain everything from job titles to disciplinary actions. There are several federal and state rules you have to follow concerning the details you take and keep in employee files, how long you can maintain those records and how to ensure fairness in evaluations. Consult this FAQ for helpful information on policies and practices for keeping worker files and conducting performance evaluations.
1. What information should be included in an employee personnel file?
You should keep important documents related to an employee’s job in his or her file, including:
- Offer letter(s)
- Employment contract
- Salary information
- Benefits, including health insurance, retirement and miscellaneous perquisites
- Performance evaluations
- Any documentation concerning disciplinary events and actions
- All government documents unless prohibited by law (Some documents such as Form I-9 are required to be stored separately from an employee’s personnel file.)
Do not store medical records in an employee’s file. The Americans with Disabilities Act sets strict regulations concerning how medical records must be handled.
2. How should personnel files be protected?
It’s important to create policies that limit access to employee records. Physical files should be maintained in locked cabinets, preferably in controlled-access locations.
Electronic personnel files must be password protected.
3. Are employees allowed to see their files?
Most states allow current employees access to at least some of the contents of their personnel records. Some states provide for former employees to have access, as well. Employers are typically allowed to be present while employees are reading their files to protect the records from alteration.
4. Are employee handbooks required?
The law doesn’t usually require you to provide an employee handbook, but it’s a good idea to offer one. They can be useful tools to make employees aware of workplace rules, expectations and personnel policies. Being able to show an employee received this information can help protect you in the event of litigation.
5. How can legal issues be avoided when conducting performance evaluations?
Evaluating employees is necessary to provide baselines for performance, identify areas for improvement and establish records in support of penalties when required. However, because of their significance to the employee/employer relationship, they can be a potential source of legal exposure. You can limit your liabilities by following a few basic rules:
- Create category-specific evaluation forms that directly relate to performance such as work quality and punctuality.
- Avoid focusing on personality traits.
- Make employees aware of the content of the evaluation forms and the criteria on which they will be evaluated ahead of time.
- Establish clear guidelines on rewards or penalties that may be tied to evaluations and provide that information to employees in advance.
6. How can legal problems be avoided when disciplining problematic employees?
Disciplining an employee is probably the one personnel action that creates the most legal exposure for a business, especially if it results in termination. There are some things you can do to help limit potential legal troubles, such as:
- Make sure your disciplinary policies are in writing, are clear and easy to understand.
- Take care not to write your policies in a way that limits your options to terminate employment.
- Be fair and consistent when applying your disciplinary policies.
- Listen to employee concerns and address issues openly and fairly.
- Document thoroughly every step of any disciplinary action and maintain the records in your employees’ personnel files.When it comes to writing any legal policy, it’s important to ensure the language is precise and clear and that it protects your interests without violating the law. It may be wise to consult with an attorney with experience handling employment law who could assist you in drafting a strong personnel policy for your business.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.