Should tribal employers define what is contained in a personnel file?

Yes.  Defining the required contents of personnel files is beneficial to tribal employers for numerous reasons.  First, by defining the contents of a personnel file, the employer defines what is included and just as importantly what is not included in a personnel file. On the latter point, it is not a good practice for employers to place medical records or the content of employee investigations in the personnel file.  Second, by giving directors and managers clear instructions regarding the content of the personnel file, it is more likely that personnel files will contain the correct information and documents.  Third, by defining the personnel file, employers define the rules regarding access to the file by the management team and by the employee or former employee.  Fourth, defining file contents brings more uniformity in the manner with which these files are set up and maintained.  This uniformity is important within a specific department and equally important across the entire organization.  Fifth there is increased efficiency and predictability in defining the rules before the personnel records are requested by present or former employees.

To this last point, employees deserve access to their personnel files.  Employees should not have access to all employer records, but there are core documents which employees should be able to access.  Access to personnel records give employees an opportunity to correct inaccurate information and obtain copies of important documents.

Many tribes do not have laws which define what is included and what is not included in an employee’s personnel file.  Tribal law should define personnel file and the rules regarding employee access.

For many employers personnel files include the following:

1. any application for employment
2. wage or salary history
3. notices of commendation
4. warning, discipline, or termination
5. authorization for a deduction or withholding of pay
6. fringe benefit information
7. leave records, and
8. employment history with the employer, job titles, dates of  promotions, transfers, and other changes, attendance records, performance evaluations.

Employers also address employee access to personnel files.  Access rules define when, who is present, and whether making a copy of the file is permitted.  For example:

You may review your personnel records at a mutually convenient time  during regular business hours. Once a year, you may request a copy of some or all of the documents included in your personnel file.  If you wish to review your file, please notify human  resources so that a specific time may be scheduled when a representative will be available to answer your questions.  Any concerns regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information contained in your files should  be addressed with your immediate supervisor and/or human resources.  If you disagree with an item in your file, you may appeal to human resources to have it corrected or removed.  If your appeal is denied, you may place your a rebuttal or correction statement in the file.

Recommendation:  Defining what is included, and therefore what is not included, in a personnel file will make the inevitable requests for documents an efficient and predictable process.

About the Author:

Richard McGee is a lawyer in Minneapolis, Minnesota who focuses his practice on gaming, gaming regulation, tribal employment and litigation in tribal, state and federal courts.  Richard has the privilege of working with tribes and tribal organizations on Human Resources matters including training.  Additionally, tribes ask Richard to address specific topics while incorporating the tribe’s related laws and policies into the sessions.  This is an invitation to engage Richard to produce and facilitate training for your tribe.