Effective Practices : Human Resources
Human Resources Section 10
1. What items are kept in a personnel file?
2. Who maintains the personnel files, ensuring their completeness and the appropriateness of information retained?
3. What are the biggest problems and challenges that must be overcome in properly managing this area of work?
4. What are the greatest successes schools report in this area?
5. What are the underlying philosophies that inform the policies and procedures in this area?
What items are kept in a personnel file?
The following items are routinely kept in personnel files in our schools:
- Copy of offer letters and/or contracts
- Copy of required immunization record and health screening forms
- Performance evaluations
- Salary/status change documents
- Notices regarding corrective action taken
- Notices of meritorious conduct
- Termination notice and related correspondence
- Appropriate immigration documentation
- Fingerprint clearance documents as directed by law
- COBRA correspondence (in the United States) (see COBRA)
- W4 (in the United States)
Some schools noted that they separate the employee files into sub-files. For example, often times a sub-file is created to contain all performance evaluation and related documentation. Another sub-file is sometimes used for sensitive information such as reports from the state or local family and social service agencies. This approach allows broader access to the “business” portion of the file including those documents necessary for the business office in its ongoing work to accurately compensate individuals. The faculty chair and members of the personnel/faculty development committee can have access to the documentation regarding professional development and mentoring, while the school administrator maintains the social service sub-file.
In schools with off-site locations (such as stand-alone high schools or remote kindergarten satellites) duplicate files must sometimes be maintained. At times licensing requirements cause this duplication, for example in the early childhood area. At other times the school finds that much of the personnel file documentation is generated from the remote location. A copy is maintained in the local office and the original documents are forwarded to the main school for appropriate filing and action.
In the United States the residency process for immigrants requires that some material be kept in special separate files. Schools are advised to speak with their immigration attorney about these requirements to ensure compliance.
Who maintains the personnel files, ensuring their completeness and the appropriateness of information retained?
In many schools the responsibility for the files lies with the administrator or a member of her staff. In some schools responsibility is shared between the administrator, business manager and personnel/faculty development committee. In cases where responsibility for the personnel files is shared it is important for schools to clearly identify one individual who will be responsible for ensuring the school’s document retention policy is in compliance with local, state and federal regulations and to audit files to ensure they meet the school’s policy.
What are the biggest problems and challenges that must be overcome in properly managing this area of work?
A challenge reported by several schools is maintaining a clear picture of what is legally appropriate and inappropriate for maintenance in a personnel file. The decentralized nature of our human resource work can make this especially challenging. When do matters under consideration by the College or the personnel/faculty development committee become items that must be documented and placed in the file? How do we ensure that copies of all appropriate paperwork are placed in the file and that the right people get notified so that a decision can be properly implemented?
Another challenge has to do with getting documents returned for matters pertaining to insurance coverage and retirement plans. Sometimes people don’t fill out these forms because they are unsure how to answer the questions; at times the insurance company’s required forms contain formal legal or technical language that is difficult for the layman to penetrate. This difficulty can mean that colleagues postpone completing the form until it is overdue. Sensitivity to this uncertainty can provide support for colleagues and help ensure that documents get returned on time. Benefits administration can be a very technically challenging and paper intensive area. For example, the insurance company may require that documentation be kept on file to prove compliance with certain notification requirements.
Several schools noted the difficulty they experience in always giving this area the attention it requires, and many have added part time clerical staff to support the human resource work in the school.
What are the greatest successes schools report in this area?
One school noted that it has worked well to keep a summary list of all status changes on the inside cover of the personnel file. This summary has saved a great deal of time for various research tasks.
Other schools note they always staple the tuberculosis test card to the inside cover, making it easily accessible in the case of an audit.
Color-coded files can aid the work as well. Schools often choose one color for each type of sub-file. This visual clue can make it easy to access needed documents quickly and easily.
Placing one person in charge of managing the files is important for success in this area. The individual must do more than just file documents that are forwarded by others; she must have authority and responsibility for understanding what is legally required and prohibited and for ensuring compliance.
What are the underlying philosophies that inform the policies and procedures in this area?
The personnel file is intended to clearly document the understandings and agreements between the colleague and the school. Being clear and consistent about the way in which personnel files are maintained can support colleagues in feeling the value the school places on their work. Inconsistencies in practice can breed resentment and frustration, while a well-maintained file can ensure that all areas of the colleague’s professional relationship with the school are clearly understood and handled fairly. A good personnel file can ensure that there is no mystery to the employee or the school about what the employee is expected to do, how he will be compensated, and how the school views his performance.
It is important to develop clear and conscious practices in this area and to enforce them uniformly.
A well-documented file is a service to the employee and the school.
The personnel file contains a great deal of sensitive and personal information. Files should be kept locked and access to their contents properly controlled.
Identify one person who has the primary responsibility for managing the school’s personnel files. Provide the person with both the responsibility for the files and the authority to ensure they are well managed.