Managing Personnel Files Series: Part 1

Failure to maintain accurate personnel files exposes your company to liability. All documents in the personnel files should adequately defend all employment decisions. Current and accurate personnel file can assist you in tracking the workforce, organizing hiring and retention, and protecting the organization from liability.

This series brought to you by SIA Group will provide helpful tools and practical guidelines to assist with the proper maintenance of personnel files throughout the employment relationship. We will discuss those documents that should never be included in the personnel file, as well as policy considerations regarding access to personnel files and the benefits of periodic file review.

Documenting the Employment Relationship

Ensuring proper maintenance of the personnel file begins with effective documentation, such as preparing accurate and complete personnel records.

The keys to effective documentation include the following four principles:

  • Maintain a legal perspective: In preparing documents, employers should always question what type of impressions or assumptions a judge or jury would draw from the documents. Years after creation, many of the documents in an employee’s personnel file can potentially be subject to the scrutiny of both a judge and jury.

  • Ensure that documents maintain a degree of objectivity: A document commenting on a comparison between and employee’s performance against established goals is often less likely to reflect supervisory bias than a document containing subjective comment that the employee “has an attitude”. Employers should always focus on specific job-related deficiencies of the employee, as these can be objectively measured.

  • Statements must be fact-driven, rather than conclusory: Factual statements are more legitimate and persuasive than conclusory statements. This is particularly true in cases of performance evaluations and the imposition of discipline. It is more persuasive to state that an employee is “often late to work”. By properly recording the facts, the employer makes a position clear, eliminating the need to later scramble to provide a basis of its employment decision(s).

  • Ensure that documents are accurate: Mistakes in documentation can be costly. For example, improperly filling out an EEO-1 report can result in an affirmative action audit by the federal government. Additionally, management’s failure to obtain an employee’s signature verifying receipt of the employer’s sexual harassment policy can have disastrous liability consequences in a future lawsuit.

Every document created should contain the following:

  • Date on which the document was created and/or amended.

  • Name and signature of the document’s author.

  • Page numbers.

  • Names and signatures of any witnesses if applicable.

Mayar MahmoudSIA Group