One of our Department Managers wants to keep his own set of personnel files for his employees at his desk. Is there a legal reason for him not to do this?
There is no law forbidding your manager from maintaining separate personnel files (i.e., “desk files”) for their employees. However, there are many laws that govern which documents an employer must keep, how they should be maintained, how long they are kept and in what manner they are to be destroyed. It is important that HR ensures that managers understand this responsibility if they want to keep their own files. In fact, just these requirements alone may make it impractical for many employers to allow separate desk files.
If you do decide to allow your managers to maintain their own files, here are some general guidelines:
Items you CAN have in a Desk File:
- Observations about the employee’s job performance
- Examples of the employee’s job performance and documents establishing the employee’s goals
- Commendations and/or performance improvement documentation
- Performance reviews
- Attendance records and time-off requests
Items you CANNOT have in Desk File:
- Doctor’s notes or any other medical documentation
- Workers’ compensation claim documents, including the supervisor’s report on the injury
- Any formal or informal legal claim by or about the employee
- Employee’s Form I-9
- Any workplace investigation materials regarding the employee
- Background investigation reports
- Personality or other test results
- Any non-job-related information, e.g., personal information about the employee
It’s easy to understand why a manager would like to keep his own records close at hand. But it is imperative that HR properly trains managers in what they can and cannot keep and instructs them in the reasons why these rules are in place. It’s a good idea to conduct an occasional audit of separate files to make sure managers are in compliance with your policies on recordkeeping.
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