Employee Personnel Files: What To Include And What Not To Include

By Kevin Rivera on March 21, 2017

Maintaining adequate employee personnel files is crucial for several reasons. Personnel files, along with the employee handbook, are usually the first things plaintiffs’ attorneys will request in any employment related lawsuit, and the documents contained therein are often central to the employer’s defense of the case. For example, they may contain a documented history of performance issues and documents laying the foundation for termination. California Labor Code section 1198.5 provides that every current and former employee has the right to inspect and receive a copy of the personnel records that the employer maintains “relating to the employee’s performance or to any grievance concerning the employee.” Employers are also required to give employees, upon their request, a copy of any document that the employee has signed relating to the obtaining or holding of employment, which are usually stored in the personnel file.

So what should go into an employee’s personnel file?

  • Job applications and resumes
  • Offer letters
  • Job descriptions
  • Records related to promotion, demotion, transfer, and layoff
  • Written agreements (such as employment agreements, arbitration agreements and confidentiality agreements)
  • Acknowledgments of receipt of employee handbooks and other key policies
  • Checklist confirming you provided all new hire documents and notices required by law
  • Records related to rates of pay and other forms of compensation
  • Written warnings and other counseling and disciplinary documents
  • Wage attachment and garnishment notices
  • Education and training records (including harassment training records)
  • Attendance records
  • Performance evaluations and performance improvement plans
  • Termination documents


What should not be included in personnel files?

  • Equal Employment Opportunity self-identification forms
  • Background check records
  • Drug test results
  • Immigration (I-9) forms
  • Confidential medical information (medical questionnaires, benefit enrollment forms and benefit claims, doctors notes, accommodation requests, and leave of absence records)
  • Internal investigation documents regarding workplace conduct (although relevant disciplinary actions and counseling notices should be placed in the employee’s personnel file)
  • Litigation documents and attorney correspondence
  • Workers’ compensation claims


Finally, don’t forget that inspections of personnel files must be allowed at reasonable times and intervals, but not later than 30 calendar days from the date the employer receives a written request from the employee.

Posted in

Application & Hiring, Arbitration, CA Employee Handbooks, Confidentiality & Privacy, Personnel Files