What to Keep in a Separate File

I-9 forms are not to be kept in personnel files. Make a separate binder for the forms and file in alphabetical order. If you are visited by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or the U.S. Department of Labor for an I-9 audit, you are expected to immediately turn over the documents to the officials. If you have an I-9 binder ready, all you have to do is present it to them when requested.

There are other things that do not belong in personnel files, and you may be prohibited from federal or state law from keeping them there. If you receive a wage garnishment for one of your employees, do not put it in the personnel file. You may keep it with the payroll records, in a file specifically for garnishments, or in a confidential file on behalf of the employee. If a background check was done, it doesn't belong in the personnel file either. Equal Opportunity Employer questioners that reveal gender, race, veteran, or disability status are private and should be treated as such. The key is that any personal information that is not directly related to the person's employment should not be in the personnel file. Each employee should have a confidential or medical file, but some will not for the simple reason that there are no contents. These files may be kept directly behind the respective employee's personnel file in the filing cabinet, or in a separate area. Again, keep the files under lock and key; never leave them unattended on a desk.

The Americans with Disabilities Act ( ADA) and federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ( HIPAA) require that all medical documents be filed separately from personnel records. Medical information should be kept confidential and away from personnel records even if your company does not fall under ADA or HIPAA regulations. Many states have their own laws about employee medical information, too, and it is important to be familiar with them. Medical paperwork that should be filed separately includes the following:

  • Reports from pre-employment physicals

  • Drug- and alcohol-testing results

  • Workers' compensation paperwork

  • Medical leave of absence forms

  • Disability paperwork

  • Insurance applications that reveal pre-existing conditions

  • Anything that identifies a medical issue

Insurance-enrollment paperwork that does not inquire about medical background should be filed in the regular personnel file. Insurance is part of the employee's compensation package and this is a normal part of the personnel file.

A medical, personal, or confidential file is what many companies refer to as the file that holds nonemployment information. You can prepare a medical file and a personal or confidential file for the employee, or just one file and combine everything. What is important is that contents that contain personal non-job-related information are not in the personnel file. Medical information is known as PHI — Protected Health Information.

If you receive a summons to provide a copy of an employee's records for a hearing, be sure you're clear on what to send. If it's a labor relations issue, only the personnel file may be needed. If it's for a workers' compensation or ADA matter, the medical file may be the one to send. Clarify what is needed before proceeding.

A supervisor's file is just that — a supervisor's file. She may have one of her own for each employee, or just one general file to document all notes and observations about the staff. Generally, incidents that fall below the need to issue a warning or discipline are documented in this file. For example, if an employee starts to show a pattern of tardiness, the dates and times of clocking in will be recorded. Then, if tardiness becomes a problem, the supervisor will have the documentation she needs to address the issue. Supervisor files should be kept secure in a locked cabinet in the supervisor's office, and are in no way related to a personnel file; it's simply a place for supervisors to document and keep notes about events and conversations that occur in the workplace.

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