Have you ever wondered what’s in your official HR Personnel File? Well, obviously it contains a lot of basic things — like your name, job title, assignment / location, home address, personal contact number, and other identifying information.
Plus your original resume and application, job description, and offer memo, most likely. And your W-4. But what else is lurking in there that you might not know about?
As much as I wish I could tell you exactly what’s in there, the contents really depend on your company and its organizational structure. And their specific policies. Also, do they even have a professional HR dept? Or is it just Uncle Teddy keeping the company info.
In most files, you’ll also probably find annual reviews (if they exist), notes on any incidents you were involved in, promotion and bonus history, awards, and any investigation results should they have done a background check at any time.
What else is in your Personnel File
Just a few more things that could be there … although you never know what you might find if you ever got into your actual personal records. And you should know that there are states where that’is legally your right. [NOTE: You can find much more about all this by going to the legal Source that I’m using: NOLO.com.]
So what else might be in there?
- Forms providing next of kin and emergency contacts.
- Complaints from customers and/or coworkers.
- Records of attendance — and notes on any warnings, discussions if there were issues.
- Completion of training programs, special company paid classes.
- Any contracts or agreements related to your time at the company.
- Info on why you left and related materials.
What should NOT be in Personnel File
Again, according to Nolo.com: “your personnel files should not be a receptacle for every document, note, or thought about the employee.”
Some definite no-nos they warn against:
- Medical records. “If your worker has a disability, you are legally required to keep all of the worker’s medical records in a separate file — and limit access to only a few people. Even for workers who are not disabled, you may have a legal obligation to keep medical records private.”
- Form I-9s. (This is a form required by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for both citizens and non-citizens.)
- “A good rule of thumb: Don’t put anything in a personnel file that you would not want a jury to see.”
Also, you might find exit interview information. Which is why I strongly suggest keeping exit interviews friendly and positive, even if you have dirt to dish. Those potential company references can have big ears.
Personnel file not the whole story
When I worked for a New York City agency, we were good about documenting things. And making sure any concerning behavioral incidents went into the employee’s official file.
In one case, a male employee was making advances toward me and acting very inappropriately. And after I wrote him up continually, the union asked me to remove my documentation — so he could move on and start fresh. I refused.
Now that’s not being mean. I wanted to make sure that he would not be able to continue this behavior elsewhere. And I later found out he had other such incidents. But former bosses agreed to wipe the slate clean. Which meant the next boss would have no warning. Not a good thing.
A few more thoughts
At the very least, it’s good to know if your state allows legal access to your personnel file. For more on that click here.
But also, you never know who has access — and who might love to gossip about things they find. So view your time at the company as something that could become public. Not suggesting you watch for prying eyes at every turn. But just know that anything you say or write could wind up in your file.
Quick story on that last point: Someone I worked with, who was otherwise quite smart, was having an affair with a woman in his department. Unfortunately that was against company policy. And their emails were read by nosy tech staff — and wound up in his file. And then she wound up being fired. (So often the way for women.)
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