All documentation related to the employment relationship should be maintained by the human resources staff in confidential files with limited access. Records about attendance, benefits, compensation and performance are among the items that should become part of a confidential file, whether hard-copy materials or password-protected within the human resources information system.
In many cases, employers who advertise openings assure applicants that their interest in the job will be kept confidential. This is especially important for job seekers who are currently employed and those who work in close-knit industries where competitors and recruiters frequently network. However, aside from the professional courtesy of handling job seekers' information with discretion, the employment materials are maintained in confidential files because they contain applicants' personal information. Employment materials include the application, cover letter, resume, employment eligibility documentation and personal and emergency contact information.
Salary and Wage Information
Although many employers caution workers about discussing salaries and wages, they can't police employees to ensure that they aren't talking about what they make or what others make. However, an HR department often implements rules that ensure that the department maintains the confidentiality of salary and wage information. In organizations where executives and high-level directors are either handsomely paid or have lucrative employment contracts, information about those salary figures is generally accessible only to HR staff with a need to know and also may be stored in the organization's in-house legal department.
Of all the employment records that are maintained in confidential files, the ones that are usually accessed by people outside the HR department are documents about employee performance. When supervisors conduct performance appraisals, it's almost essential to have past performance records from the employee's file. That said, HR staff typically monitor which supervisors and managers access performance records to ensure they're being accessed for legitimate purposes.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requires that employers maintain separate files for employees' health- and medical-related information. This includes information about workers compensation claims and medical treatment, applications for leaves of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act and documentation that supports an employee's request for reasonable accommodation for a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Separating these materials from other employment materials also requires that employers establish privacy rules for access to employees' information and designate a privacy officer -- usually the benefits specialist -- who is solely responsible for maintaining employees' confidentiality.
All documentation, witness statements and other materials related to workplace investigations should never be stored in employment files. Even if the workplace investigation involves one or more employees, HR specialists who handle employee relations matters should maintain all investigative materials in a separate and confidential file.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.