By Goke Ilesanmi
One of the tasks that organisations need to take seriously is the accurate handling of employee records. It is necessary or even compulsory for organisations to maintain and update an employment file on every employee at least for organisational and legal purposes. In short, documentation of employee performance and conduct is a critical function for effective managers today.
Keeping employee files allows organisations to keep credentials and reviews at their fingertips. It also allows organisations to present information to one another quickly. Many firms need to share employee data among departments – accounting and human resources, for example – and files are the ideal way to do that.
Experts like Susan Corey, a workforce development manager for the Southeast Michigan Community Alliance submit that in today´s computer age, many companies choose to keep files electronically or in databases, but plain manila folders still work well in many cases. This implies that you can use whatever is most comfortable for you – and most likely to make you keep your employment folders up-to-date.
When organising your employee folders, try and keep the information in order by date, beginning with the workers’ curriculum vitae and references, and an employment application letter. Also, keep the original job description for each new employee and create room to note any changes in responsibilities over the coming months and years. This strategy will make it easy for both an organisation and the employees to track how the position and skill set required for the position have changed.
According to human resource experts like Denise Bissonnette, an author, this part of the employment file should also include the date set for the first performance evaluation and once that takes place, a written review should be added. Organisations need to keep all such reviews, just in case and they may be called upon someday to justify a firing or a bad review.
Research shows that if your company offers health benefits, you will need to keep copies of any paperwork on those plans that an employee has filled out. This is because health care paperwork contains especially sensitive information and it is smart to keep it separate from all other types of employee paperwork, in a folder with tighter access control. Keeping good records also means creating standard forms for things you will do all the time with every employee. You will need a standard form for salary increases, another for performance reviews and another for disciplinary actions.
These forms should all include the following basic information: name, starting date and job title; date of the review or action, as well as what action is being taken; names of any other coworker involved in the action; specific questions to answer during a review, with a good scale to judge progress; additional space to set new goals and priorities; room for signatures of everyone involved to sign when the form is completed, etc., advises AllBusiness.
You must make a copy of all forms that an employee signs for his or her personal records, and by law, employees are entitled to a copy of anything that they sign, and they can request to see anything in their files.
Maintaining manager disk files
Keeping an accurate record of an employee’s work history is necessary for performance management, employee career development, and compensation, discipline, and termination decisions. According to Barrie Gross, a human resource development expert, “Two key questions that often arise are ‘What should be in that documentation?’ and ‘Where should it be maintained?’”
Managers should write down notes of conversations with employees about their performance and/or conduct, and these notes should be written on the same day that conversations take place. Gross asserts that even if the conversation is not about formal discipline or part of the formal performance management process, some notes on the conversation are appropriate. Notes should always include the date, the manager’s name and title, the employee’s name and title, and what has been said. Gross says editorial comments and characterisation are not helpful; the notes should be factual.
If a manager meets with an employee to deliver a written form of discipline, the disciplinary document alone is not a sufficient record of the issues. Factual notes about the content of the conversation between the manager and employee when the document was delivered are critical. And the same is true of meetings to deliver performance reviews. Experts stress that the additional documentation of what was said, and by whom, can help a manager track performance issues and will help protect the company in the event of litigation at a later date.
Research shows that many times, managers will have ‘casual’ conversations with employees about a performance issue that is not considered disciplinary. Rather, the manager has noticed an issue that he or she wants to bring to the employee’s attention by just getting together for a few minutes in the manager’s office. Unfortunately, most managers will not make notes of these kinds of conversations because they are not considered ‘serious’. But later, if the performance issue continues and harsher action needs to be taken, there is absence of a record showing that the manager has had ongoing communication with an employee on that very topic, illuminates Gross.
Hidden benefit and company policies
Alternatively, the casual conversations could be about something positive. Perhaps the employee performed particularly well on a project or received kudos from another employee or client. Those conversations should also be recorded. As regards where all such notes should be maintained, experts say you can start by looking at the company’s policies. Most companies have a centralised system for keeping personnel files.
And those files usually contain things like the application, curriculum vitae, signed offer letter or employment agreement, tax documents, annual performance reviews, formal disciplinary documents, important signed employee notices, etc. But it is not every time that those files contain all the manager’s notes until after an employee leaves his or her employment.
Most managers keep notes of employee conversations in a manager’s desk file, under lock and key. So are manager’s desk files considered to be a part of the official personnel file? Experts say the answer is not so clear.
Right to see files
The question that always arises as regards keeping employee records is: Do employees have the right to access their own files? The answer is Yes. According to Barrie Gross, a human resource development expert, “By law, in most states, employees do have the right to review their own employee files. While they can’t demand to see them on the spot, you must produce them within a reasonable time frame – say, 48 hours or so.”
This request should not be a problem if someone in your organisation is maintaining your employee files properly. In most organisations, employees also have the right to make a copy of any document in their employee file. This should not be an issue, as the employee already should have seen and signed most of the documents in the file.
If your company policy does not require you to allow employees to see their personnel folders, it would be smart to allow them access anyway. Having an open employee file rule builds trust. On the other hand, barring employees from reading about themselves sends a very negative signal and creates a bad corporate image or reputation.
On what to do with employees’ files after employees have left your company, research shows that to comply with international standard and regulations, in a well-regulated labour market, you must hang on to employee files for seven years after an employee has left your company.
To defend your company against possible lawsuits concerning breach of employment, failure to pay overtime, employment discrimination, sexual harassment and any other type of employment issues, you should keep employee files for four years – the statute of limitations for such claims.
If filing space is an issue at your office, box the files of former employees and place them in dead storage until the seven-year holding period expires. This is because it is cheaper than not being able to defend yourself in the event of an audit or lawsuit.
Beyond everything, keeping accurate employee records allows an organisation to achieve effective administration as well as management of its employees.
Till we meet on Wednesday.
GOKE ILESANMI, Managing Consultant/CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is an International Platinum Columnist, Certified Public Speaker/MC, Communication Specialist, Motivational Speaker and Career Management Coach. He is also a Book Reviewer, Biographer and Editorial Consultant.
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