Personnel files: Documentation is key

April 20, 2007

Whether your practice is large or small, you should follow certain steps to avoid potential trouble.

Keypoints

You've undoubtedly heard horror stories-punctuated with grim details about large chunks of lost time and money-regarding the dangers of not having comprehensive and legible patient charts. But what about the need to keep good personnel files? The consequences of not doing so are rarely as dire as the fallout from sloppy or incomplete patient records. Still, employees do sue former-and even current-employers, and in such cases the best defense is a good paper trail. Also, in the business of medicine, as in any business, keeping careful account of each employee's salary, benefits, attendance, evaluations, and on-the-job problems is just common sense. So is knowing what records to hold on to, and for how long.

We asked three employment law specialists-April Boyer, of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis in Miami; Barbara Fick, an associate professor at Notre Dame Law School in Indiana; and Mark D. Nelson, of Drinker Biddle Gardner Carton in Chicago-to lay out the rules governing personnel files. Their advice follows.

What to keep and how long to keep it

Federal record-keeping regulations include the following: