Personnel File Guidance

Human Resources and Academic Human Resources are frequently asked what documents should be included in an employee's "personnel file." [1] In consultation with the Office of the General Counsel, Human Resources and Academic Human Resources issue the following guidance. [2]

Documents That Should Be Included: 
The primary state law that governs personnel files in Michigan is the Bullard-Plawecki Right to Know Act. That law defines a "personnel record" to include any "record kept by the employer that identifies the 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." In other words, any document (including emails) that may affect or be used in connection with a prospective personnel action should be included in the employee's personnel file. Loose notes that a supervisor keeps for possible future reference need not be included. However, notes that are used as a basis for a personnel action or a supervisor's memo that is shared with others or that may affect an employment decision must be included.

Documents That Must Not Be Included: 
Both Bullard-Plawecki and federal law require that certain documents not be contained in the personnel record. The following is a list of such items. Although these documents should not be included in the personnel record, you may keep them in a separate file that only you can access. The employee will generally not have access to the contents of such a file.

  • Employee medical information.
  • Employee references, if the identity of the person making the reference would be disclosed.
  • Materials relating to the employer's staff planning with respect to more than one employee, including salary increases, promotions, and job assignments.
  • Information of a personal nature about a person other than the employee if disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of the other person's privacy.
  • Student education records protected by FERPA.
  • Records made and kept by an executive, administrative, or professional employee that are kept in his or her sole possession and are not accessible or shared with other persons.

Practical Implications - Should I Put This in the Personnel Record?

  • Medical provider's notes for leaves of absence: NO. Academic Human Resources and HR will retain any necessary documentation.
  • Grievance materials: NO. The appropriate HR office or the Faculty Grievance Office will retain any necessary documents.
  • Administrative review materials and/or Performance Evaluation/Development forms: YES.
  • Complaints by students: YES, if they may affect or be used in making an employment decision.
  • Complaints by colleagues/staff: YES, if they may affect or be used in making an employment decision.
  • Email correspondence: YES, if it may affect or be used in making an employment decision.
  • Harassment/Discrimination Investigations: The investigation file, including witness interviews and notes, should be kept separately. If there is a finding that University policy was violated, the document summarizing the violation and any sanction/discipline imposed should be placed in the file.

Employee Review of Personnel Records 
As often as twice a year, an employee may inspect and review his or her personnel record, at a reasonable time, upon request. After such a review, the employee may obtain a copy of some or all of the record, in which case the unit may charge actual copying costs.

Release of Personnel Records 
The University may not divulge a disciplinary action document to a third party (other than a collective bargaining agent) without first giving the employee written notice by regular mail. Additionally, the University must review a personnel record before releasing information to a third party and, except when the release is ordered in a court action or arbitration, delete records of disciplinary action which are more than four years old. For employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement, there may be specific guidelines regarding how long disciplinary records may be kept in the personnel file.

Archiving Guidelines 
View archiving guidelines 


[1] For purposes of this memo, the terms "personnel file" and "personnel record" are used interchangeably.

[2] This guidance is a summary and is not intended to address all aspects of law or University policy.

If you have questions regarding personnel files, please contact Human Resources at 353-4434, Academic Human Resources at 355-1526, or Office of General Counsel at 353-3530.