What Should Go In Performance Files?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about content of files:

I retain copies of emails, reports, activities and other doc. which are then placed in a performance file. These items, both positive and negative in nature are reviewed and used during a performance appraisal, recognition or to doc. a developing concern. Is it legal to retain these documents in a performance file and not in the employees personnel file?

Signed, Boss

Dear Boss:

Our site does not provide legal opinion, but it does give educated advice on such questions as yours. Two guest respondents, each with extensive experience in Human Resources, have addressed your question. I think you will find their answers are sound although they differ with respect to what they would put in an employee’s file. Dan Kearney says, “Many supervisors and managers keep a performance file these days. This is done to keep track of the employee’s performance so that the manager or supervisor can “quantify” the performance of the employee being reviewed. These “notes” do not belong in an employee’s personnel file. Many times supervisors and managers forget events in the employee’s performance, and in this litigious society, managers find themselves discouraged from using a qualitative approach in favor of a quantitative approach. These notes help them to quantify and are not illegal.” Jerry Allen advises: “The documents described in your e-mail (performance appraisals, e-mails, reports, etc.) are certainly very confidential in nature and such should be filed/stored in a very safe and secure file. Yes, I think they should be in the personnel file. I am not sure it is legal to have them in a separate file or not. I would suggest they be placed in the employee’s Personnel File, in a separate folder, labeled: Performance Appraisals and Related Information.”

These different answers suggest that you do more investigation and that you think through criteria for what you do. Have you spoken with your personnel manager about your company’s policy regarding files on employees and performance appraisal? Also, have you thought through what you want and don’t want your own boss to keep records on your performance and general behavior? Do you want what he/she records on you placed in your file?

Possibly a related question pertains to the relationships you want to establish with your subordinates. That is, do you play the role of Grader or Coach? A grader adds up the pros and cons carefully over a term and provides intermittent feedback to help the student/employee improve. A coach is continuously interacting with players/employees to enable the most effective team play possible. A coach asks after each game and invites players interaction to the question: What went well; what can we applaud and what might we do to correct mistakes and help each other play more effectively? Working together with hands, head, and heart—requires careful thought and empathy; takes and makes big WEGOS. Will you keep us posted on what you learn and determine is best for you and your employees?

Kearney, Allen & Gorden