What guidelines should we follow when setting up and organizing personnel files at church?

“Personnel records” are records kept by the church about an employee’s qualifications for employment, promotion, transfer, additional compensation, or disciplinary actions.

Employees’ medical files should be kept separate from their personnel files. This includes medical certifications, doctor’s notes, requests for family or medical leave, results of medical exams, and the like. Medical files should be kept under “lock and key,” with access granted to only those who have a legitimate business need to know.

I-9 documentation also should be kept separate from employees’ personnel files. Although keeping I-9s separate is not a legal requirement, it is a good practice. In the event of an audit, government officials will not have access to personal employee information. Not only that, but it will make it easier for you to extract the information when the government asks for it.

What type of information is typically kept in an employee personnel file?

Here is a list of general information that usually goes into a personnel file. Note that there are no laws requiring that you keep personnel files, per se, but federal, state and industry-specific laws may require certain types of documentation to be retained.

  • Personal information, including name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, and education
  • Job application and résumé
  • Licenses or certificates needed for the job
  • A signed handbook receipt or employment contract
  • Attendance and leave records
  • Payroll records
  • Performance appraisals, commendation letters, merit awards
  • Disciplinary records
  • Job description, title, location, and schedule
  • Records related to promotions, transfers, layoffs, or termination (including exit interviews)
  • Safety and accident reports
  • Emergency contact information
  • Education records
  • Fringe benefit information, such as the name of the insurance provider and pension plan participation
  • Grievance records

How long must employers retain employee personnel records?

A good record-keeping system depends on knowing what to get rid of, and when. The more you keep, the more likely information will fall into the wrong hands; records take up space and administrative effort; you can reduce the risk of superfluous or obsolete records being seen in the wrong light and used against you.

BUT, disposing of some records too early could not only be against the law, you could also find yourself in trouble if you need them to defend against claims in court, or comply with a court order or agency investigation.

Federal or state statutes typically dictate record-keeping retention requirements.

A former employee is demanding that we send her personnel file. Do we have to?

Even if your state has a law giving former employees the right to access their personnel files, no law requires the church to send the complete file. Typically, the individual would be allowed to view the file on church premises and to make copies of documents, which often can be at the individual’s expense. If your state does not have a law, or the law does not address former employees, then it is up to you whether to give the ex-employee access and under what conditions.

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Clergy Financial Resources serves as a resource for clients to help analyze the complexity of clergy tax law, church payroll & HR issues. Our professionals are committed to helping clients stay informed about tax news, developments and trends in various specialty areas.

This article is intended to provide readers with guidance in tax matters. The article does not constitute, and should not be treated as professional advice regarding the use of any particular tax technique. Every effort has been made to assure the accuracy of the information. Clergy Financial Resources and the author do not assume responsibility for any individual’s reliance upon the information provided in the article. Readers should independently verify all information before applying it to a particular fact situation, and should independently determine the impact of any particular tax planning technique. If you are seeking legal advice, you are encouraged to consult an attorney.

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