6 Types of Personnel Files You Need and Who Can Have Access

Personal information about employees must be protected in a locked filing cabinet, but the security doesn’t stop there. Housing different information in different types of employee files will protect against managers, supervisors, or other authorized staff members accidentally gaining access to sensitive information. Below are the 6 types of files you should keep and a brief description of the documents that belong in each one.

1. Company personnel file

The contents of employee personnel files are generally made up of information from the on-boarding process and are only accessible to Human Resources staff, the employee’s manager or supervisor, and the employee (with authorized supervision.) Forms that belong in this file are:

  • Applications for at-will employment, a term used in U.S. labor law for contractual relationships in which an employer can dismiss an employee for any reason and without warning.
  • Job offer letter providing details about the employees start date, the job title, and basic salary and benefits information.
  • Waiver of meal break form. Although meal break waivers are not required to be in writing, it is a good form to have to help to defend against any potential claims by disgruntled employees.
  • Signed confirmation of the employee handbook acknowledging that the employee has read and understands the policies and guidelines of your business.
  • A signed employment contract establishes the rights and responsibilities of the employer and the employee.
  • The job description of the specific position that includes the job’s title, duties, purpose, responsibilities, as well as the name of the supervisor to whom the employee reports.
  • Written warnings and other official disciplinary documentation with details of the actions of the employee, the disciplinary action taken, and the employee’s signature.
  • Performance reviews, formal assessment, and evaluation of an employee’s work performance.

2. Employee medical records

Medical records contain sensitive information and need to be off limits to all staff except the human resource professional. Managers and supervisors should not have access to employee medical records. There are numerous types of medical records, and it is vital to secure them in the correct file.

  • Health insurance applications and forms
  • Life insurance applications and forms
  • Designated beneficiary information
  • Applications for any other employee benefit that might require medical information such as vision insurance
  • Requests for paid or unpaid medical leaves of absence
  • Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA) reports and related applications and paperwork
  • Physician-signed FMLA paperwork
  • Documentation about the illnesses of a family member or child for whom you apply for FMLA time to provide ongoing care
  • Medically related leave documentation for employees who are ineligible for FMLA time off work
  • Physician’s examinations, notes, correspondence, and recommendations
  • Medically-related excuses for absenteeism or tardiness from a physician
  • Medical job restrictions with documentation from the recommending physician
  • Accident and injury reports, including OSHA-required documents
  • Workers’ compensation reports of injury or illness
  • Drug test
  • Any other form or document that contains private medical information about an employee

3. Payroll file

Information about the employees pay and financial information is another sensitive area that needs to be inaccessible for all staff except the human resource professional. If wandering eyes catch sight of a salary or wage of someone else, it can create a ripple of dissatisfaction among the employee team.

  • W-4 form informs the employer of how much money to withhold from an employee’s paycheck for income taxes.
  • Wage garnishment happens when a court orders that an employer divert a portion of the employee’s paycheck to a creditor or person to whom they owe money.
  • Wage theft protection notice contains specified information regarding the employee’s pay and other benefits.
  • Time off requests should be kept to maintain accurate records of the accrual and use of each employee’s paid time off, vacation and sick leave benefits.
  • Direct deposit forms contain sensitive information like bank routing number and checking account number.

4. Investigation file

If a situation ever requires an investigation – all interview reports and documentation must remain in a separate and confidential file where no one except HR has access. Sensitive information getting into the wrong hands can create an HR nightmare.

5. Secured employee information file

A secured employee information file is for HR professionals only and houses documents that include employee social security numbers or information about an employee’s protected classifications such as age, race, gender, national origin, disability, marital status, religious beliefs. Background checks including criminal history, credit reports.

6. Manager or supervisor’s private file

A manager’s or supervisor’s employee files are for their eyes only, and no employee should ever be allowed access. The employee file is strictly used for supervisory documentation and should not have copies of records that exist in the official employee personnel. Documents in this type of employee file should only pertain to an employee’s work, tracking projects and goal completion, performance development plans, and notes on the feedback provided. A supervisor’s private records can be subpoenaed in the instance of a lawsuit, so use caution when entering private notes.


In conclusion, protecting employees’ personal information is a big responsibility, and it’s imperative to train managers and supervisors on what information is appropriate and to avoid negative comments, opinions, and judgments. Protecting the employee files from unauthorized personnel and making sure managers and supervisors know who is allowed access them will help ensure your business remains compliant with record keeping requirements.

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