Keeping employee records safe

Organize and file employees' sensitive personnel documents with these tips.
Feb 01, 2009

You know you shouldn't leave personnel records lying around where just anyone can peruse them. But do you know how these documents should be filed and stored—and who should have access to them? First off, make sure you're collecting only the information necessary to administer the practice and comply with government regulations. Then, keep in mind that some types of information, such as medical evaluations or reports from accidents on site, are more sensitive than others. Finally, divide personnel records into three categories: key events, compensation and benefits, and confidential.

Key event documents

These files are generally available to the employee and his or her supervisors. They're not necessarily available to other managers in the practice, such as a payroll manager, unless they have a specific reason to know that information. Key event documents include:
> Application for employment
> Cover letter and résumé
> New-hire letters
> Performance evaluations
> Emergency contact information
> Employment history
> Attendance and leave records
> Confidentiality forms
> File access requests
> Injury reports
> Notices of commendation
> Warnings, discipline, or termination information
> Criminal records where action was taken by the practice as a result of the investigation
> Employment proficiency testing summaries (percentage or pass/fail)
> Employee's statement of disputed record.

Compensation and benefits documents

The documents in this list should be available to the specific employee and to staff members responsible for payroll matters. They should not necessarily be available to direct supervisors. These records include:
> Payroll authorizations
> W-4 tax forms
> Deductions or direct deposit paperwork
> Fringe benefit records
> Retirement records
> Employment eligibility verification form I-9.

Confidential documents

Confidential information is generally restricted to the practice owner and the human resource representative responsible for compiling the data. It's not accessible to individual staff members except under court order. Confidential documents include:
> Employment-related background checks
> Background check authorization form
> Employment verification information
> Voluntary self-identification of drug or alcohol dependencies
> Medical benefit enrollment information
> Employment-related medical records
> Employment-related beneficiary designation information
> Letters of reference
> Records of ongoing criminal investigations
> Detailed employment proficiency testing records
> Any transcripts or letters concerning job performance or job-related misconduct provided by a coworker who identifies the employee in any way.

Check with your local and state labor departments before you finalize your personnel filing system. Once you've sorted and stored the files appropriately, establish a time to periodically review each employee's personnel file—performance appraisals are a great time to do this. Together with the employee, determine whether the documents in the file are accurate, up to date, and complete.

Phil Seibert, CVT, is an author, speaker, and consultant with SafetyVet in Calhoun, Tenn. Send questions or comments to