What Should Be In An Employee Personnel File?

An employee personnel file is a complete record of the employee and employer’s relationship together

A personnel file contains documents from the initial job application right through to a record of their exit interview, termination of employment, or even retirement. As a result, personnel files are highly confidential, so access should be limited to certain members of the HR department and their managers. The employee should only have selected and controlled access to the file.

Employee personnel files are some of the most frequently accessed HR records, so businesses need to be able to access them easily, while keeping them secure and compliant with GDPR. However, the number of documents in each file can be overwhelming, potentially reaching 100 or more documents for long-standing employees. And all of those files take up space, cost money to keep, and can be difficult to locate.

So, what should be in an employee personnel file exactly? How long should each document be kept for? Let’s take a look at how to better manage your organisation’s employee personnel file documents to improve your business’ overall document management.

How should employee personnel files be stored?

Due to the confidential nature of their contents, employee personnel files should be locked away unless in use. Ideally, digital is the recommended employee personnel file format, with files stored securely either online or on a server.

Digital HR records have a significant advantage over paper records, as they’re more secure and can be fully backed up. Digitised personnel files can also be easier to locate, and they remove the need for paper files, freeing up physical space.

Employee personnel file checklist

Different documents will need to be kept in an employee’s personnel file depending on whether they’re a job applicant, a current member of staff, or a previous employee. Our employee personnel file checklist shows you what needs to be kept on file at each stage:

Recruitment Stage

  • Job description/copy of advert
  • Job application and covering letter
  • CV/resume
  • Interview notes and scoring
  • Written references and supporting documents
  • References and employment verification
  • Offer letters/acceptance letters

During Employment

  • Signed staff handbook
  • Emergency contact details
  • Tax codes and statements
  • Relocation agreements and supporting documents
  • Probation documents
  • Any contracts
  • Leave records

Performance & Development

  • Appraisals and personal development plans (PDPs)
  • Attendance notes
  • Qualification records – both internal and external
  • Certifications
  • Training requests and records
  • Expenses
  • Competency assessments
  • Promotion documents
  • Complaints both from and to the employee
  • Disciplinary actions


  • Resignation letters
  • Termination of employment documentation
  • Exit interview documents
  • Any financial records for pay, settlements, holiday etc.

What doesn’t need to be kept in an employee personnel file?

The only documents that should be kept in an employee’s personnel file are those that relate to their employment with your organisation in some way. If a document isn’t listed above and isn’t related to their current employment, then it probably doesn’t need to be kept*.

Examples of documents that don’t need to be kept in an employee personnel file include:

  • Any confidential information, such as the employee’s marital status, religion, criminal history, race or ethnicity, or disability status
  • Medical information or medical records
  • Pre-employment records (apart from application documents or their CV)
  • Background checks
  • Whistleblower complaint records

When determining whether or not something belongs with an employee’s personnel file documents, consider:

  • Does it relate to their employment status?
  • Is the employee aware this information is being kept on record?
  • Would this document be required in a court of law?

How long do employee personnel files need to be kept?

Employee personnel file documents should be kept on file for a minimum of 6 years. That includes any documents relating to their application, appraisals, contracts, or anything else to do with an individual’s employment status. Find out more about the recommended document retention periods.

Who needs access to employee personnel files?

Access to employee personnel file documents should be restricted to keep sensitive information as secure as possible. If records are in paper format, they should be stored in a locked filing cabinet, and only HR staff who absolutely need to should have access.

Digital personnel files should be password-protected, with those passwords known to only key HR staff and their line managers. Organisations have a duty to keep staff personnel files safe, secure and GDPR-compliant.

Can employees access their personnel files?

In the UK, employees have the right to request access to their personnel files, with GDPR stating that HR departments must respond to any requests within one month. This can be extended to three months if there are third parties involved, as this can complicate the process.

In some cases, there are exceptions that mean an employer doesn’t have to grant an employee access to their file. For example, if the HR file contains data on a third party who could easily be identified, the employer can refuse to share it.

Improve your HR document management with Restore Digital

Strengthen your organisation’s personnel file document management with Restore Digital Use our secure document scanning and management solutions to digitise your employee personnel files, while remaining GDPR-compliant.

*Caveat: Each business is different and may require different documentation. This blog should be used as a guide only.

Are you ready to streamline your Document Management?

We’ve worked with some of the UK’s most well-known names to help them improve their HR document management. If you feel like your office or filing cabinets are overrun with paper personnel files, contact us to find out how we can help you.

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