Handle With Care: Employee Personnel Records!

When a client begins a conversation with the words, "So I got a letter from the Attorney General's office," it is rarely cause for celebration. Knowing, however, that clients prefer calm responses and reassuring attitudes and, in all fairness, that even this unhappy circumstance may very well be addressed without litigation and penalties, I do my best to remain unruffled.

Here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, personnel records fall into the category of private business operations subject to Massachusetts law and enforcement of the Attorney General's Office. As such, a problem in this area can generate said letter.

That's the bad news. The good news is that the law itself spells out — in a fairly detailed fashion — what its requirements are.

Let us review then, what your employee personnel file must contain [if these documents exist], if you are an employer of 20 or more employees:
  • Name, address, date of birth, job title and description;
  • Salary or hourly wage rate and any other compensation [such as a bonus];
  • Starting employment date, job application, and resume [if one was submitted];
  • Employee performance evaluations, written warnings of substandard performance, lists of probationary periods, waivers signed by the employee, dated termination notices, and any other document relating to disciplinary action.
Let's also not forget that the law requires employers, within 5 business days of the written request of an employee, to provide a current or former employee with a copy of their personnel file. [You must retain an employee's personnel file for 3 years following departure from the company.]

As my client and I agreed, when he realized that he had exactly what he needed to produce in response to an official inquiry, careful maintenance of employee personnel records is well worth the effort!


Marijo McCarthy is principal of Widett and McCarthy, a Boston-area law firm that helps small business owners grow their businesses with pragmatic legal advice, mentoring and a solid team of professional advisors.

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