What are employee files?

Employee files, also known as employee personnel files, are detailed records that contain essential job-related documents and information about an employee.

They’re kept to help employers assess performance, provide evidence for court cases, and comply with local laws. 

What should your employee personnel files contain?

An employee personnel file should contain:

  • Personal information — The employee’s full name, contact details, date of birth, and emergency contact information.
  • Employment history and documents — The employee’s résumé, previous job history, application for their current role, your offer letter, employment contract, and any other relevant employment agreements.
  • Performance evaluations — Records of performance evaluations, including any written assessments, feedback, or performance improvement plans.
  • Payroll and compensation — Documents related to the employee’s compensation, including salary details and tax forms. Don’t include confidential details like their bank account details or social security number, as these should be filed separately.
  • Employee benefits and leave — Information about the employee’s benefits, including paid vacation days.
  • Training and development — Records of the employee’s training programs, certifications, and professional development activities.
  • Disciplinary actions — Documentation of any disciplinary actions, warnings, or complaints related to the employee’s behavior or performance.

Types of employee records

Along with the employee personnel file, there are different types of employee records including confidential and medical files. With these different types of employee records, it can be difficult to know what information belongs in each.

The table below can help provide some clarity:

Employee file Confidential file Medical file
Name, address, phone number Immigration info Sick leave
Emergency contact information Disability status Absence or tardiness for medical reasons
Résumé and job applications Race Accident reports
Employment history Gender Injury compensation
Employment contracts Sexual orientation Insurance forms
Any other signed agreements Religion Any private medical information
Salary records Credit reports
Performance record Criminal history
Vacation days/attendance
Records of disciplinary action
Resignation/termination letter
Final paycheck and leave pay

Who is responsible for employee files?

An HR department is responsible for employee files. This includes making sure that the files are accurate, confidential, secure, and that they comply with legal requirements. 

How long do you need to keep employee files?

The retention period for employee files depends on local legal requirements, as well as on company policies

It’s important to consult legal advisors, or check local employment laws, to ensure that you comply by keeping employee files for the correct amount of time. 

Generally, you should keep these files for as long as the employee is with you, and for a certain amount of time after they leave. 

How long should you keep terminated employee files?

Depending on local laws and company policy, HR departments usually keep terminated employee files for three to seven years after termination—in case they’re needed for legal matters.

Medical records and other files may legally require longer retention periods, depending on your area.

Employee rights with regard to personnel files 

Even though employee files laws vary in different parts of the world, employees often have the right to access their personnel file and request corrections or updates if they find any inaccuracies. There are even cases of terminated employees requesting personnel files. 

Employees also tend to have the right to privacy. Employers are obligated to keep employee files confidential and secure to protect that privacy.

It’s a good idea to explain the company policy on accessing personnel files in the employee handbook. This will contribute to a transparent and open company culture.

How do you manage digital employee files with HR tech?

With so many documents, knowing how to organize employee personnel files properly can seem an impossible task.

But HR tech makes it easier to manage electronic employee files efficiently and securely: 

  • Digital storage and organization — HR software systems such as HRIS and document management platforms give you a central digital place to store employee files. This makes it easy for an HR team to access, organize, and update documents.
  • Data security — Employee files contain confidential information, so it’s important that access to them is secure and controlled. HR tech solutions can encrypt files, restrict access to certain people, and create audit trails so that the files stay confidential.
  • Workflow automation — You can automate processes like onboarding, offboarding, and document retention. This doesn’t just make things more efficient but also means there’s less margin for error. 
  • Compliance and record retention — HR tech can make it easier to stay compliant with local laws. You can track and manage record retention periods, and some software automatically flags files for deletion when needed.