Wednesday, December 7, 1994

Personnel Files

Churches tend to fall into one of two traps with Personnel Files.  On one hand they don't keep them at all, or they become catch alls containing every document, note, and form concerning the employee.

Keep in mind that in a worst-case scenario, these files could become evidence in a court of law.  

The church should keep three separate, color-coded files for each staff member.  Like the signals on a traffic light, the three files could be green, yellow and red. 

Green– contains job-related documents. Access is limited.  Perhaps only the Senior Pastor and the Church Administrator should have access to them.  In some cases, the Personnel Committee might be able to review the contents.
  • hiring forms, including the application and résumé
  • college and seminary transcripts 
  • test documents used by an employer to make an employment decision 
  • job description, signed by the employee and supervisor, with date 
  • permission to conduct a background check
  • employment offer letter and other records relating to promotion, demotion, transfer, or layoff
  • salary and compensation history
  • documentation of training records, continuing education, seminars attended or certifications earned
  • letters of recognition, awards or citations for excellent performance
  • complaints from church members might be included, but they should also include an attachment about actions taken
  • performance evaluations, signed and dated by supervisor and employee
  • warnings and/or other disciplinary actions, signed and dated by supervisor and employee
  • leave request forms
  • termination records relating to the employee’s departure from the company (such as reasons why the employee left or was terminated, unemployment documents, insurance continuation forms, etc.)
  • any contract, written agreement, receipt or acknowledgment between the employee and the employer
  • receipt or signed acknowledgment of employee handbook or policy
Yellow – contains information that is more personal and less job related, and therefore requires a higher degree of privacy. Access is limited to fewer people, such as the Senior Pastor and Church Administrator.  Elders, members of the Personnel Committee, and others would not normally have access to these forms.
  • employee benefit forms  
  • forms providing next of kin and emergency contacts
  • IRS Form W-4    
  • requests for employment/payroll verification
  • EEO/invitation to self-identify, disability or veteran status records 
  • background check results

Red - contains information that is strictly confidential with the highest degree of privacy required, and therefore, access is restricted to Senior Pastor, Church Administrator and the chair of the Personnel Committee and internal/external legal counsel only. 
  • medical/insurance records (including drug testing)
  • litigation documents
  • workers' compensation claims
  • sensitive items such as information assembled as part of an internal investigation for a harassment complaint or for a criminal investigation, reference letters, exit interviews, and information that might violate the privacy of other people 
A fourth file is for the I-9 forms.  Lots of churches make the mistake of filing the Form I-9 in the employee’s personnel file. However, it should be kept in a separate file under lock and key, along with the I-9’s of all active employees, as well as those I-9’s of employees who have since left the company. 

Recordkeeping requirements for retention of I-9’s are three years from the employee’s date of hire or one year from the employee’s date of termination, whichever is greater.   

The main reason for not keeping the I-9 in the personnel file is that the immigration status, if revealed, could be used to discriminate against an employee.

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