Business Category Business: career motivation and tips to move ahead

How to Set Up Personnel Files

Keeping personnel files in good order is important not only to comply with legal requirements, but also to have easy access to information about employees when you need it.

Personnel files contain data that should be kept private, so part of file maintenance involves determining who will have access to the information they contain, and on what occasions. There are also legal requirements regarding information allowed in a personnel file and data that should not be included.

Sort your employee files into two categories: those containing potentially discriminatory information and those that do not (see Tips).

Create file folders, either paper or virtual, for the potentially discriminatory information, one folder for each employee. File this information in the specially created folders. Keep them separate from all other personnel records.

Return to your primary personnel records. Set up files, either paper or virtual, for each application for employment (see Tips). Put these documents into the appropriate folders.

Create files, either paper or virtual, for each employee's payroll records, including W-4 and other tax documents, time sheets, job description, any information regarding compensation, compensation history and employee authorisation for release of any information to outside sources.

Create files, either paper or virtual, for each employee's training and performance appraisal records. Include documents regarding training history, skills inventories, progress reports and records of any performance appraisals.

Collect in writing a statement from each employee regarding what information he wishes released from his personnel files (see Tips).

Determine who will have access to what category of personnel forms. Make specific information available only to people with a need to know.

Store your personnel files in a protected location. Limit access either by keeping physical files locked or establishing secure passwords for electronic files.

Establish a retention plan for personnel files. Keep information needed for Social Security records, including employee's date of birth and contact details, for four years. Keep I-9 forms and equal pay information, such as age, gender and occupation, for three years. Keep job applications, resumes, any skills or medical test results, job advertisements, and any information regarding promotions and terminations for one year.


  • Step 1: Files that contain an employee's date of birth, such as health insurance or pension files, are considered potentially discriminatory, as are files with any medical information, such as drug testing that might have been required for employment. Step 3: Employment application files should include each job application, reports on any interviews, education records and transcripts, employment offer letter, acknowledgement receipts for any employee handbook and any information regarding security clearances. Step 6: Employees may wish to have their employment verified if they are applying for credit or for a mortgage.