Employee Documentation- Who What, When, & How?

Employee Documentation

Let’s face it, we all agree maintaining proper employee files and documentation is important, but no one likes to do it, resulting in a haphazard job, if it is done at all. In this month’s “HR Solutions,” we cover not only why good documentation is important, but help you understand what,  when, and how to document effectively by providing you with a system to maintain accurate employee records.


Employee files provide backup, communication, and evidence of various transitions such as wage changes, job titles, benefit selections, wage garnishments, I-9 forms (usually kept in a separate filing area), employee background, completed training, etc. Maintaining this information helps support and justify current pay, position and benefit selections. Other common employee file items include performance appraisals, corrective actions, and rewards and recognition information. These documents help guide employment decisions and future actions such as promotion, pay increase, reduction in force, training, or even discharge.

Supervisory documentation on employees is important, yet challenging to obtain. Daily supervisor notes and records of employee feedback, discussions, warnings, praise, recognition efforts, and training should be recorded.  These records help leaders with employee development, employee motivation, performance tracking, performance appraisal completion, goal setting, coaching strategies, and training. These are perhaps the most critical records used to defend employment actions.


Employers should maintain copies of all employee records such as job application, resume, offer letter, benefit elections, pay changes, appraisals, wage garnishments, complaints, corrective actions, I-9s, acknowledgment of receipts from handbooks, and any other document related to an employee’s work. When in doubt, it is usually best to keep confidential employee information like drug testing results, disability information, medical records, birth dates, etc. should be kept separate from other file information that may be accessible to supervisors or others. The key is to keep information of a  sensitive or personal nature confidential from all employees and leaders with access to employee files, allowing only the primary person responsible for file management, usually, someone in human resources to view this information when needed.

Employment decisions like the following should have all details pertaining to the  decision maintained:

  • Employee corrective actions;
  • The decision to discharge;
  • Decisions regarding how reductions in force selections are made;
  • Selection decisions, interview notes, references, and background information;
  • Promotion decisions;
  • Employee complaints & investigations; and
  • Leave requests, like family medical

Other important information such as workers’ compensation, accident violations, traffic violations, disability accommodations, harassment complaints, doctor notes, etc. is important to maintain. More and more, employers and leaders are asked to defend their decisions with specific details and facts.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to maintain pay records, work hours data, and exemption determination information to ensure compliance. The IRS, OSHA, Department of Labor, OFCCP and other legal enforcers look for other required documentation when certain laws apply.   The laws and regulations that apply to your organization specifically, could dictate additional documentation requirements.

When documenting employee conversations, information related to an investigation, or important decisions like a discharge, include exact statements from witnesses, dates, times, and details. Keep in mind that everything you write down may be read by a third party like a jury or plaintiff’s attorney. Therefore, be professional in writing job-related information and be prepared to back up what you write.



All information should be gathered and recorded when the incident happens. If we fail to document as it happens, memories begin to fade, facts become diminished, and information falls through the cracks.

There are critical pieces of the new hire process, corrective actions, employee complaints, leave requests, discussions of disability, and termination that all trigger corresponding events that must be documented and recorded, as soon as they occur.



There are a number of effective documentation systems both manual and automated, paper and paperless, that work effectively. All records and data must be kept locked down and protected from identity theft and confidentiality leaks.

Data stored in computers must have sufficient firewall protection to ensure the information is not accessed by the wrong people.

Assigning ownership for maintaining employee files and ensuring that records are kept is essential for any filing/documentation system. Generally, someone in HR, like the Human Resources Assistant, is tasked with maintaining all employee records. It is useful to have this person remind leaders and collect documentation when key events occur, like corrective action or discharge.

Define a file management system, processes for all key employment functions (new hire, benefits enrollment, termination, appraisals, leave requests, etc.) and forms to be used for tracking and recording important data. 

Useful forms may include Job Application, New Hire Benefit Enrollment, Pay Change, Leave Request, Reason for Discharge, Termination, Exit Interview, and more.

Once you create a form to gather the information, define a set procedure that describes when the form will be used. Assign responsibility to key individuals in management, human resources, and payroll who have the specific task of certain functions and filing documents. A good procedure describes the function objective, responsibilities of all parties involved, steps taken, documents used, and the entire process flow from creation, through implementation, and to the filing of the document.

Steps for Success

  1. Clarify the documents needed for each
  1. Train everyone who has responsibility for any of the key HR functions that require documentation.
  1. Train supervisors to set up an electronic file for each of their employees where they record daily information, performance tracking, verbal discussions, and
  1. The follow-up to make sure everyone performs the procedure. Consistency and accuracy are important when keeping good.
  1. Reinforce when necessary to ensure everyone uses the defined forms and follows the set procedures.

Employers must keep good employee records and documentation. Keeping the documentation process systematic and simple ensures success.

By Ken Spencer, SPHR, MHRM, Sr. Human Resources Consultant and President of HR Service, Inc.

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