Do your personnel file folders hold the correct documents? Keeping Personnel Files Confidential


Personnel files should be treated as private company records belonging to you and your individual employees. You don’t want to allow just anyone in the company to rummage through the performance evaluations, salaries, and job applications of coworkers. Keep employee files in a locked cabinet. Make them available only to those people in your company who have a legitimate business need to access the files.

What to Keep in a Personnel File                                

Are the documents in the file accurate, signed, up to date, and complete? Some questions to consider:

  • Does the file contain an application and/or resume?
  • Does the file contain every written evaluation of the employee?
  • Does the file reflect all the employee’s raises, promotions…etc.?
  • Does the file show every warning or other disciplinary action taken against the employee?
  • If the employee was promoted or transferred to a new position, has the file been updated to reflect the employee’s current status?
  • If the employee handbook has been updated since the employee started working for you, do you have the signed receipt/ acknowledgment page for the most recent version?
  • Does the file contain all employment agreements between you and the employee?


What Not to Keep in a Personnel File

Although your personnel files do house a lot of employment information it is important not to make this a place to stuff employee information. Here are some areas to be careful about:

  • Medical Records—Do not put medical records into a personnel file, unless it is a totally separate folder of its own within the personnel file. Employers who are covered by the Americans With Disability Act (ADA) must keep medical records confidential and separate from other personnel records. You are legally required to keep all of the worker’s medical records in a separate file — and limit access to only a few people. Even for workers who are not disabled, you have a legal obligation to keep medical records private (and it’s a good idea to do so, in any case).
  • Form I-9s—Do not put Form I-9s into your employees’ personnel files. (Form I-9 is a form from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), formerly the INS. You must complete an I-9 for all employees, verifying that you have checked to be sure that the employees are legally authorized to work in the United States.) You should put all Form I-9s into one folder. The government is entitled to inspect these forms, and if it does, you don’t want the agents viewing the rest of the employee’s personnel — and personal — information at the same time. Not only would this compromise your workers’ privacy, but it might also open your business up to additional questions and investigation.
  • Unnecessary Material—Although an employee’s personnel file may contain any other job-related documents, don’t go overboard. Remember that, in many states, (including Iowa) employees have the right to view their personnel files. Indiscreet entries that do not directly relate to an employee’s job performance and qualifications — like references to an employee’s private life or political beliefs, unsubstantiated criticisms or comments about an employee’s race, sex or religion will come back to haunt you.

A good rule of thumb: Don’t put anything in a personnel file that you would not want a jury to see.


Susan Arnold
HR On-Call, LLC
p. 515.401.2233


A little more about us:
Susan Arnold, owner and lead HR Consultant at HR On-Call, LLC. Susan has 20+ years of HR experience and provides a HR presence to business organizations without the overhead expense of a full-time employee. Susan helps business owners improve employer/employee relationships and allows them to focus on their business while resting assured that they are in full compliance with state and federal law.

Areas of expertise:

  • Reduce Employer Risk and Liability
  • Customized Employee Handbooks
  • Performance Reviews
  • Improve Employee/Employer Relationships
  • Background Checks
  • Personality Assessments
  • Guaranteed EEO Compliance
  • Employee Retention
  • Recruitment / Hiring
  • Employee Discipline/Discharge

Susan is passionate about her customers and listens to their needs. If you are interested in any of the details above or would like more information about her services, please contact Susan!

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