Personnel File

A personnel file is a very important part of an employer’s records. Having a personnel file for an employee will allow an employer to keep certain records that may be useful in the course of employment, such as regarding benefits and compensation, as well as that may be useful in the case of future disputes with the employee.

Therefore, it is very important for an employer to have a personnel file for each employee.

Employee Personnel File Contents

An employee’s personnel file will be the primary place where important documents related to their employment with the employer are stored. These documents will usually range from their original job application to their work performance and compensation history to their exit from the company.

The file is often kept in a secure place and will only be accessible by their supervisors, the management, and the human resources department. Employment documents and personnel files contain very sensitive information and so are usually kept under strict protection. It is important to take care to make sure sensitive information is protected but still accessible by those who might have a need for it, such as the supervisor and human resources.

Considerations About Employee Personnel File Content

Not every document needs to be kept on file. Too many files may create confusion and recordkeeping inefficiency. The main determining factor for whether a document should be put into an employee’s personnel file is if it will be useful for future disputes, such as if the employer is sued in the future or faces other legal questions, investigations, and conflicts.

Many times, it is helpful if the employee themselves signs a document stating that they understand that certain documents may be kept on file for future use.

It is important that the employee file not contain opinionated or personal information, but rather only have factual details relating to the employee’s employment. These details should include their employment documents and any documented instances or relevant events.

Contents of an Employee Personnel File

The following are examples of some items that may be kept in an employee file. The employee file might contain:

  • Items relating to the employee’s length of employment at the company
  • Their achievements and development as an employee
  • Documents relating to why and how they were separated from the company and under what circumstances

Employment History

There are a variety of documents related to an employee’s history at the company that might be worth keeping as part of their employment records. These would include items such as:

  • Original documents relating to the job posting
  • Resume  
  • Cover letter
  • Job application
  • Verification background check documents regarding education and employment history
  • Notes regarding the interview and hiring-decision process
  • Offer letter
  • Executed Job contract
  • Employee’s contact information
  • On-boarding process documents
  • Documents regarding relocation and benefits,
  • Any non-disclosures or non-competes that were signed 
  • Internal requests and messages
  • Promotion documents
  • Disciplinary documents

Any other kind of document that may an objective documentation of a significant aspect of their employment at the company

Other possible documents to include may be performance reviews and training program histories as well as evaluation tests they took for themselves. Attendance documents and discipline documents should certainly be kept too. Any documents related to their work performance and internal correspondence, as well as reaction to discipline and improvement afterward, should be kept.

If there are documented statements from others relating to the employee, those might be worth including too. These may include feedback from co-workers, supervisors, and clients. It is useful to have this information stored because otherwise, it may be difficult to organize and retrieve if the employee’s personnel file later needs to be used.

The employee’s achievements, trainings, and discipline records should all be kept on hand in the file.

Employment Termination Records

Even once the employee has left it is very important to keep certain documents relating to their separation process. These will include their formal termination notice as well as their exit interview, if any, and the documents relating to the suspension of their benefits and their last compensation paid. Documents relating to returning the business’ property should be kept here too.

What You Should Keep in Your Employees' Personnel Files

The personnel file is important not just for recordkeeping during the employee’s time of employment but also in case, after the employee has left the company, there is a lawsuit or some other dispute. The personnel file is therefore very important to keep up-to-date as well as clear of non-objective documentation.

Include Everything Relating to Employee Performance in the Personnel Files

It is a good idea to regularly examine employee personnel files and to organize and clean them. When looking at an employee’s personnel file, think about if every relevant document is there as well as if there are documents that either are irrelevant or should be taken away, such as if the company has a policy about discarding discipline reports after a set time.

Other questions to ask may include if the file contains recent relevant documents from the employee, such as recent performance and discipline reports as well as signed acknowledgments. With all these files it is easy to get disorganized, which is why it is important to regularly check the personnel files to make sure they are proper and up-to-date. It is also important to make sure that improper documents are not in the personnel file.

Other Items to Keep in Your Personnel Files

When organizing the personnel file, it is vital that at least the key documents that are relevant to almost every employee are there.

These documents will include their original job application as well as the documents related to their hiring and on-boarding process. Documents relating to their compensation, particularly legal documents and authorizations, are important as well.

Documents relating to their performance, work history, improvement, and discipline are also relevant to keep in the file.

Documents relating to their attendance at training programs and their completion of said programs may be useful too.

Lastly, documents relating to their termination from the company are particularly important as well, as often times these may be where future disputes arise from.

You should take care to make sure that at least these documents are included in the personnel file.

What You Should Not Keep in Your Personnel Files

There are many documents that are unnecessary to keep in the employee’s personnel file, or even that should not be kept there. These will be documents that might be highly sensitive and not directly related to the employee’s employment, such as medical records.

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Contents of the Official Personnel File

Generally the subjects that should be included as part of the personnel file include documents that are part of compensation, hiring, termination, performance, and training.


Important employment information will include their original job application, the interview notes, their resume and other application materials, the verification documents, emergency contact, and other information that was a part of their hiring.

Information related to their onboarding should be kept too, such as their orientation and signed acknowledgments.


It is helpful to keep relevant information related to their compensation, such as pay-slips and timesheets. Be careful with privacy laws and authorizations regarding this.

Performance Management

Information relating to their actual work should be kept as well. This may include their performance and discipline history, as well as training and remedial actions.

Training and Development

Important training documents to include in the file are those related to applying for training programs, the applications themselves, training evaluations and completions, awards, documents related to expenses or commissions, and attendance records.

Separation (Non-Medical)

Lastly, separation documents are a very important category to have as part of the file. These will include items such as their exit interview, final performance report, and off-boarding process.

Personnel File – What It Should Contain, With Examples

The personnel file overall is the place where the bulk of the documents related to the employee’s time at the company are kept. The topics covered in the file are wide, ranging from their start at the company to their performance to their separation.

What a Personnel File Is and Why You Need Them

The personnel file is important both to keep track of the employee while at the company and for future possible disputes or investigations.

What You Need in Your Personnel Files

It is helpful to keep important legal documents relating to the employee’s compensation in the file. Furthermore, official documents signed relating to the employee’s employment should be kept there too, particularly documents regarding non-disclosure and non-competes.

Documents that are not explicit contracts also should be kept in the file, such as performance reviews and training records.

Depending on your company size, you may be required to keep certain other records as well, such as regarding veteran status. You should check federal, state, and local laws to see what are the recordkeeping requirements for your locality and business.

What You Should NOT Keep In Personnel Files

There are many documents you should not keep in the file, especially if they are opinionated and not formal documentation. Having the wrong kind of documentation can violate the employee’s privacy as well as subject you to difficulty in future disputes.

Why You Need Personnel Files

If the government investigates or audits you, they will expect strong formal records on your employees. It is therefore important to keep up-to-date, complete, and consistent records.

How to Get Personnel Files Set Up for Existing Employees

When checking your personnel files, it and finding that you may need more documents from employees, you should inform your employees and have them provide the necessary documents promptly to you.

It may be helpful to explore backup systems for your files, such as through cloud storage systems. Be sure to invest in security for these systems, as the information is highly sensitive.

Federal Law & Personnel Files

The federal government requires that employee records be kept for at least a year after the employee was separated from the company. Federal law also requires compensation documents be kept for at least three years, as well as any records relating to differences in compensation as well as performance reviews being kept for at least two years. There are a variety of federal and state recordkeeping requirements that are important to follow.

State Laws & Personnel Files

Many state laws vary regarding whether an employee is able to examine their own personnel file. Some states grant the right automatically while others require the employee to initiate an action to see the file.

Right to View States

Roughly 18 states are known as “right-to-view” states, where the employee is able to look freely at their own personnel file. These states range from California to Maine to Wisconsin.

While personnel files, particularly hard-copy documentation, may seem to be outdated in many ways nonetheless they are an important part of your company’s human resources management. The files may prove useful both in future disputes and investigations as well as in the day-to-day process of managing your employees and business.

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