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Employee Personnel Files

April 11, 2023 8811

Employee personnel files should contain the history of the employment relationship from employment application through termination documentation.

The confidentiality of employee information is paramount. Your practice should have policies in place to ensure that legal guidelines concerning personnel records are followed. California businesses owning personal information must maintain reasonable security procedures and practices appropriate to the nature of the information to protect the personal information from unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification or disclosure. (Cal. Civ. Code §1798.81.5)

Practice owners should limit access and authorization to employee personnel files to the practice owner or a trusted designated staff member and store the employee personnel files in a locked, fireproof file cabinet or a file cabinet in a locked location.

The guidelines provided in this resource, when applied correctly, can help a practice build and maintain employee information while securely storing legally compliant employee files and employment-related documents.

Develop a written policy

Include a written policy in your employee manual. When developing your practice policy regarding personnel records, consider the following:

  1. What type of information will be kept in each file?
  2. Who is responsible for maintaining the file?
  3. Where will the files be stored?
  4. How long should the information be kept? (See Retention below)
  5. Procedures for keeping information current.
  6. A policy for review of files by those who have a need.
  7. Who will be designated to facilitate requests for access?
  8. A policy for the review by the employee/former employee of his/her own file, including:
  • A requirement that the employee/former employee submit a written request for inspection and/or copy of their personnel records. (See Employee Personnel Files Request Form.)
  • A requirement is that any release of records to a representative be done only if the employee/former employee has authorized such release in writing.
  • A timeframe for review of the file (no later than 30 days after receipt of a written request).
  • The location(s) where the file may be reviewed.

For current employees: at the place where the employee works or at another location agreeable to the employer and the requester (and at no loss of compensation to the employee).

For a former employee: at the location where the employer stores the records (unless the parties mutually agree in writing to a different location) or by mail, if the former employee reimburses for actual postal expenses.

For a former employee terminated for harassment or workplace violence: at a location other than the workplace that is within a reasonable driving distance of the former employee’s residence or by mail.

  • Limitations on how often the file may be reviewed. The following are the only legal limitations:

No more than one request per year from former employees.

No more than 50 requests to inspect and receive a copy of personnel records filed by employee representative(s) in one calendar month.

No requests while the employee has a pending lawsuit against the employer that relates to a personnel matter.

  • Procedure for when an employee will be responsible for paying costs.

Employee/former employee responsible for the actual cost of reproduction if a copy of the file is requested.

The former employee is responsible for the actual cost of mailing a copy of the file if he/she requests a receipt by mail.

  • A form that an employee can use to submit a written request.

General employee file

A general employee file is where a majority of an employee’s documents will be kept. A general file may include the following documents:

  • New employee orientation and onboarding checklist
  • Emergency contacts
  • Offer letter
  • Signed job description (at time of hire)
  • Resume
  • Application
  • Educational transcripts
  • Copy of dental/hygiene/assistant license
  • At-will agreement acknowledgment
  • Performance appraisals
  • Any documents related to status changes such as promotion, demotion, transfer, layoff and rates of pay
  • Corrective actions or performance improvement plans
  • Letters of recognition/kudos
  • Complaints from patients
  • Training documentation (C.E. course certificates)
  • Revised job descriptions
  • Documentation of certification or license (renewals)
  • Policy change/update acknowledgments
  • Handbook acknowledgment (including any updated versions)
  • Written agreements (non-compete, arbitration, etc.)
  • Requests to view personnel file
  • Requests for time off
  • Attendance records
  • Expense reports
  • Requests for pay advances
  • Completed termination checklist*
  • Copy of Notice to Employee as to Change in Relationship*
  • Employee resignation letter (if applicable)*
  • Copy of termination notice or letter*

Confidential employee file

Establish a confidential employee file, which shall contain highly sensitive and confidential information protected by privacy laws. A confidential folder may include the following documents:

  • Equal Employment Opportunity/veteran/self-identifying documents
  • Interview notes
  • Employment tests
  • Reference/background checks
  • Litigation documents
  • Investigation records
  • Drug test results**
  • Medical insurance records (notes, enrollment forms)
  • Benefit declination form (if applicable)
  • Beneficiary designation forms
  • Immunization records**
  • Requests for leaves
  • Healthcare provider certifications (notes)
  • Accommodation requests and documentation
  • EDD paperwork
  • W4
  • DE4 (California Employee Withholding)
  • Notice of Wage Theft Protection Act
  • DE 34 (New Employee Report)
  • Employee direct deposit
  • Flexible spending information
  • Profit sharing/401k enrollment forms
  • Child support/garnishments
  • Requests for employment/payroll verification
  • Unemployment
  • Incident reports (OSHA forms)**
  • Workers compensation correspondence
  • Copy of final pay calculation and pay stub*
  • Employee authorization to plan administrators*
  • Written correspondence to plan administrators ending coverage*

*Employment termination records
** Employee medical records subject to 8 CCR 3204

What should not be contained in employee files

Employee files should not be a receptacle for every document, note or thought about an employee. Indiscreet entries that do not directly relate to an employee’s job performance or qualifications — such as references to an employee’s private life or political beliefs and unsubstantiated criticisms or comments about an employee’s race, sex or religion do not belong in the employee file.


The law requires that employers keep records for certain time periods. There are different retention requirements depending on the type of document. See the Records and Documents Retention Guidelines available on

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