Some documents should be separate but equal in employee record retention
Employers often tend to keep too many employment records. Although this kind of overzealous employee record retention sometimes comes in handy, it usually only adds unnecessary clutter to a personnel file. You want to make sure that the records you keep serve a business purpose. If the records aren’t serving a business purpose, you want to ask yourself why the record exists at all. Make a point to plan what kinds of records you need to keep. It frequently makes sense, especially in larger companies, to standardize employee record retention.
Here are five categories of documents considered important in employee record retention:
- Documents of employee history, These are documents related to job performance, that describe promotions, performance appraisals and any sort of corrective action write-ups that record employee discipline. It’s absolutely crucial to keep a record of employee discipline, especially if you are frequently called upon to litigate employment disputes or to defend the company’s actions. The employee history needs to include items to which managers must have access when they’re going to make ongoing employment decisions. For instance, as managers are trying to decide whether to promote one employee versus another, they’ve got to have enough information in that personnel file to make a reasonable decision about that. That employee history needs to do a good job of reflecting the employee’s performance over the full time that they have been with the company or with the organization.
This also means that the employee history must NOT include medical documents, FMLA documents, or any other documents that could suggest a supervisor is discriminating during employment decisions.
- Medical history and other documents unrelated to the job. This includes pre-employment reference checks, candidate interview evaluations, and credit reports. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the FMLA require that medical records be treated confidentially. If they’re part of the regular personnel file that lays out the employee history, those files are not always treated with the same level of confidentiality that the ADA and the FMLA might expect. All medical information, like benefit claims forms and reimbursement requests for medical expenses should be maintained in separate files that do not enter general circulation, seen only on a need-to-know basis.
- Immigration Act form. These forms, too, should be maintained in a file separate from the employee history. Again, separate immigration-related employee record retention assures that forms can’t be used as evidence of intent to discriminate. If an employee’s I-9 forms are in the same personnel file that supervisors are using to make a promotion decision, there is evidence that the supervisors making the promotion decisions had access to race or national origin information. Furthermore, if the government decides to audit your I-9 forms, instead of having to dive in and out of every personnel file, keeping I-9 forms separate means you can reach in to one drawer and pull out every I-9 that you’re supposed to have and hand them over in one complete file. Keeping I-9 forms separate makes employee record retention easier.
- Documents related to investigations. Again, investigation-related files should be kept separate from other files. They also need to be maintained until an EEOC charge or any other litigation is completely resolved. For instance, if you get an EEOC charge and you immediately look into the basis of that EEOC charge and that person is still a current employee, you don’t need to keep those documents in the regular personnel file, particularly for retaliation reasons. The employer in this case needs to protect the employee’s privacy as much as possible to avoid discrimination charges and retaliation. Employee record retention should not fuel discrimination. You don’t want supervisors who might be making decisions about this employee to see that they have filed charges in the past and make decisions based on that.
- Et cetera, but not et cetera, et cetera. Anything else, but not everything, you think you may need.
Edited Remarks From “Personnel Document Retention: What to Keep, How to Keep It and Why It Matters” by Matt Gilley
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