The Order of Things on Paper

“I have a manila folder for each employee but is there a standard way to maintain a personnel file?”

Your HR Survival Tip

While there is no rule or required way to set up personnel files, there are some common methods. Technically, employee paperwork may be in several different files: a legal file, medical file, payroll file, I-9 Form file, and the main personnel file.

LEGAL is only needed if you have letters or requests from attorneys, state agencies, etc., or have paperwork regarding an investigation that included the employee. This information is usually only available to your own attorney or by court order.

MEDICAL is used for doctor’s notes, disability claims, workers’ compensation DWC1 forms and claims, medical leaves of absence forms, or any other document that refers to the employee’s health.

PAYROLL is usually only available to your CPA or by court order and includes W4 forms, timecards, time off requests, garnishments, child support orders, etc.

I-9 FORM file or binder holds all current employees’ forms. The form is not kept in each employee’s main file because if an immigration agency audits your company, you can give them just this file/binder. If the form is in the main file, you might have to turn over whole files… which you don’t want to do.

MAIN personnel files contain most of the paperwork about employees. This is the one file a manager or employee can review. If you are using folders with inside dividers, we suggest the following categories but keep them chronological with the most current document on top in each of these:

  • Employee — All the recruitment documents are kept, including any ads or job postings, job application, letters of reference, resume, job description, etc. This category should have the employee’s current contact information on top.

  • Employment — Include the offer letter, policy sign-offs, status changes, bonus information, etc. Later you would add any termination documentation, resignation, exit interview, copy of the final check, and benefit termination or conversion forms.

  • Performance — Performance reviews, warnings, memos regarding disciplinary actions, and commendations are included here. If relevant, you could also include certificates from training courses, tuition reimbursement forms, post-hire degrees, etc.

  • Miscellaneous — Use this when the document doesn’t fit another category, such as non-medical leave of absence requests, unemployment claim records, jury duty forms, and requests to inspect the personnel file.

When there are only a few sheets in a file, order rarely matters. However, the longer an employee is with you, the more likely their file will grow. We prefer having the paperwork clamped down inside whatever folder you’re using. This will prevent paperwork from being lost or easily removed. All employee files and documents are legally considered confidential and need to be kept in a secure, locked location at all times. We often see unlocked file cabinets that are easily accessible to the curious. Be prepared to keep employee information for the company’s life, but you can scan the files of ex-employees to keep digital copies instead of paper.

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