It can be difficult to know what employee records a small business should keep in a personnel file. Should it only hold onto the bare minimum and risk not having enough documentation to protect itself should it need to in the future, or should it keep everything and files become so thick that it is impossible to find anything efficiently? Ultimately, a practical compromise is necessary.

Below is a brief list of the essential documents a small business should keep in a personnel file. However, please remember that this list is a guideline, a template and that ultimately it is up to the specific needs of the small business to determine what stays and what goes.

 Employment Agreement Records

The most basic of personnel file documents that need retaining should center on the professional relationship between the employee and employer. These documents would include the employee’s application and resume, the description of the job as given to the employee, the offer of employment, and the signed receipt of the employee handbook.

 Legal Documents

The most important of the legal documents that need retaining should be the ones related to taxes. These would include W-4s and state withholding forms. Obviously, the tax forms required by your business may not be the same as other businesses, but the idea is to make sure that a copy of whatever tax forms is required always are kept in the employee’s file. Also, legal documents may include next of kin information, emergency contacts, and forms relating to employee benefits.

 Employee Performance Documents

An essential collection of documents is how the employee performs their job. Primarily, this documentation will provide the necessary empirical data to justify an employee’s review. A short list of such records would include awards, reprimands, notes on attendance, certificates of successful completion of training programs, and why and under what conditions the employee left. In essence, these documents should give a stranger an understanding of what this individual was like as an employee.

Unnecessary Documents

However, there are records that you should avoid including in an employee’s personnel file. These would include an I-9 as a government official who may need access to this record does not need to leaf through all the other personal information to find it, and medical records as a small business are legally required to keep this information confidential and available to only a select few.

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