Personnel Files

Nonprofits should maintain files for each employee. These files should include items such as employee’s original application, copies of periodic performance review forms and documentation about disciplinary action. Personnel files should be kept in a secure location to protect confidentiality.

Some employers may find the use of three or more separate personnel files for employees useful as follows:

Regular personnel file. This may include the employment application if it does not contain medical information, performance appraisals, salary history, documentation about probation and letters of praise for jobs well done.

All documents concerning disciplinary action should be placed in this file. Notes about an employee’s performance are purely background information and should not be placed in an employee’s file.

  • Confidential personnel file. This file may include copies of correspondence to and from lien companies about employment verification, insurance documents, age or dependent information, and I-9 Forms and supporting documents.
  • Medical information file. This file may include employment application if pre-dates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and includes medical information, and anything relating to the employee’s need for reasonable accommodation under the ADA and medical insurance forms.

Federal law generally does not give employees the right to see their personnel file at any time, however, some state laws do. As long as state law does not require more frequent access, limiting access to personnel files to every six months or once a year is often sufficient. As a practical matter, personnel files should not contain anything employees have not seen before.

Once a complaint or lawsuit is filed, employers generally cannot remove or destroy documents in a personnel file or any other documents. Therefore, a personnel file should never include anything that reflects negatively on the employer or shows any act of discrimination by the employer.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.