Guidelines for Retaining Personnel Files

Guidelines for Retaining Personnel Files

These are guidelines for MIT departments, labs and centers to follow in maintaining employee records.

What are Personnel Records?

The Massachusetts Personnel Records Statute defines a "personnel record" broadly as any "record kept by an employer that identifies an employee, to the extent that the record is used or has been used, or may affect or be used relative to that employee’s qualifications for employment, promotion, transfer, additional compensation or disciplinary action." M.G.L. c. 149, § 52C. Unquestionably, this definition is subject to some degree of interpretation.

Employee Requests for Personnel Files

The Personnel Records Statute requires MIT to provide an employee with an opportunity to review his or her personnel record twice per year, within five business days of the employee’s written request.

When an employee makes a request to review, the HRO will contact the employee’s DLC to request a copy of the departmental personnel file. If an employee has been in multiple DLCs, the HRO will contact all DLCs where the employee has worked to obtain each of the DLC’s employee files.

Retention  Guidelines

All personnel records must be retained in Departments, Labs and Centers (DLCs) for at least five years after termination from MIT. If an employee transfers to another DLC, his/her record must be kept until five years after the employee terminates his/her employment from MIT, not five years after the transfer.

Personnel records have confidential, personal identification information (SSN, DOB) and should be kept in a secure location and only accessible by those whose job requires access.

What Documents Should be Kept in a Personnel File?

Note that the specific definition of a personnel record describes documents (1) that show basic employee factual data (e.g., name, salary/rate of pay) or (2) that record actions—a raise, a promotion, a performance review—that affect the employee in concrete (usually financial) ways.

Guided by these two principles—factual data and action items—you should generally include only those materials kept by a supervisor in the ordinary course of his or her management that have affected or may affect compensation or discipline.

Protections of Others’ Privacy. Employees do not have a right to see "information of a personal nature" about another person "if disclosure of the information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of such other person’s privacy." In such a case, it might be appropriate to delete (redact) the name of the other person. If any student is identified in an employee’s record (for an employee who works with students), the HRO should be advised and General Counsel will be involved in the review since student records enjoy special protection under the FERPA law and MIT may have to withhold those records.

List of Specific Items Included in Personnel Record

  • Application
  • Resume
  • References
  • Initial hire letter
  • Job description
  • Relevant SAP records
  • Performance evaluations, including any employee response
  • Written warnings
  • Termination notices
  • Any other document relating to disciplinary action regarding the employee

What Might Not be Included in an Employee Personnel File?

Items that are not action items that might be excluded. For example:

  • Pre-­employment documents such as search plans and search results
  • Investigation reports where there was no finding of a policy violation
  • Drafts of documents, since they were never the operative document
  • Any correspondence (including emails) about options of possible action that may not have been taken (including advice from HROs)
  • Memos that inform others at MIT of the status of the employee
  • Personal notes made by supervisors to facilitate day-­to-­day supervision of employees
  • Medical  documentation

Do note, however, that any of these documents that are retained may be subpoenaed in the event of litigation even if they do not meet the definition of a personnel record.

What to Do if You Want to Destroy Old Personnel Records?

If a DLC has old personnel records for former employees that they would like to destroy:

  1. Send a list of the names and MIT ID numbers to the HRO.
  2. The HRO will confirm whether the employees terminated their employment from MIT more than 5 years ago and can be destroyed.

It is the responsibility of all members of the community to protect and safeguard sensitive data. Personnel records contain a great deal of sensitive and protected information. More specifically, many older paper files contain PIRN (Personal Information Requiring Notification), which includes Social Security numbers. When destroying personnel records, it is critical that the records that include PIRN are destroyed appropriately; therefore, they must be shredded.

See MIT’s information protection expectations and information on shredding.

Need Help?

Please contact your HRO if you have any questions.