With the mountains of paperwork in the workplace these days, HR professionals often question what should — and what should not — be kept in an employee’s personnel file.  Should it be every single document that refers to the employee?  Should it only be the “important” documents like applications and disciplinary records?  Or should it be something in between?

As we all know, personnel files are very important, particularly in a time where employment litigation is booming.  A well-kept personnel file just might hold the employer’s so-called “smoking gun,” and perhaps the key to the case.

A recent HR Hero email cited to a 2007 Montana Employment Law Letter article addressing this topic.  Briefly, employers should include documents like applications, offer letters, and employment agreements.  Performance documentation and handbook/policy acknowledgments should always be included (remember that “smoking gun” we mentioned?).  Among those documents that should not be included?  Anything related to employee health information, including information regarding health insurance.  This information should be kept in a separate, confidential medical file.

Though not comprehensive, the article is a good guide for what employers should keep in a personnel file.  Legal counsel can help address concerns regarding specific documents.  When in doubt, the best practice is to include a document about which you are unsure.  Better safe than sorry!