Skip to content

April 2018

Employee Personnel Files:
Know What they Should and Shouldn’t Contain

There are two common questions asked about employee personnel files — what goes in a personnel file, and can an employee request to see his or her file?

First and foremost, personnel files must comply with federal and state regulations. Employee personnel files actually comprise three distinct file types: personnel, medical, and miscellaneous. Here’s a breakdown of what’s contained in each type of file.

Personnel File

Personnel files are the files that contain all job-related documents. These include:

  • signed job description;
  • job applications and resume;
  • offer letter;
  • licensure information;
  • signed acknowledgment of receipt and agreement with the practice's employee handbook;
  • evaluations (performance appraisals);
  • anything related to job performance;
  • wage information;
  • information on promotions/demotions;
  • training attendance;
  • disciplinary actions;
  • any written agreement between the employer and employee;
  • any separation agreements or documentation;
  • exit interviews/checklist; and
  • unemployment document.

Medical File

The employee medical file is the file containing all documents related to the employee’s health and life insurance, as well as any other medical-related documents. These include:

  • all health and life insurance enrollment forms;
  • pre-employment medical exam paperwork;
  • beneficiary documentation;
  • any medically related documentation, i.e. doctor’s notes;
  • any disability paperwork, medical leave requests, or Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodations requests;
  • fitness-for-duty documentation; and
  • COBRA paperwork.

Miscellaneous File

Finally, the employee’s miscellaneous (sometimes referred to as the financial file) contains payroll and other financial-related documents. Documents found here include:

  • all payroll related documentation, direct deposit authorization, W-4s, 401K, and 125 garnishment documentation;
  • employment verification; and
  • reference checks.

NOTE: It is recommended that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Form I-9 and supporting documentation be kept in a separate binder.

Viewing a Personnel File

Probably the most-asked question regarding personnel files is can an employee request to see his or her file? The answer is yes!

In Michigan, employees and former employees are permitted to view their personnel files upon request. However, make sure your office’s employee handbook contains a personnel file policy that explains the employee’s rights under state law, your office’s compliance with the law, and the process employees must follow to obtain their information. This policy should also detail the reasonable fees associated with duplicating the files.

When a request to view a personnel file is made, a signed and dated written request should be provided by the employee. The personnel file should then be viewed in a private room in the presence of the employee and another designated individual, usually the office manager, dentist, or human resources director. The employee should never remove the file from the room. If the employee requests a copy of his or her file, you should provide one and also document the transaction, including the date the copied file was provided.

The MDA has created a sample personnel file policy that’s available to members. Contact the MDA at 800-589-2632 to request a copy or if you have any questions about personnel files.

Discussing Fees with Patients before Treatment

A frequent patient complaint heard in the MDA peer review department concerns the bill for treatment. Patients often say “the dentist just started working on me and never discussed how much it was going to cost, and I can’t afford what he did.”

It’s easy to understand the patient’s perspective, but it’s also easy to see how a patient may have misheard — or just not heard — the discussion regarding the treatment fee. If your office is experiencing an increase in patient dissatisfaction regarding payment, it may be time to change the office’s patient communication protocols.

While there is no legal requirement that fees be discussed in advance with a patient, there are definite ethical requirements. The first principle of the ADA/MDA Combined Code of Ethics found under Section 1, the Principle of Patient Autonomy, states “This principle expresses the concept that professionals have a duty to treat the patient according to the patient’s desires, within the bounds of accepted treatment, and to protect the patient’s confidentiality. Under this principle, the dentist’s primary obligations include involving patients in treatment decisions in a meaningful way, with due consideration being given to the patient’s needs, desires and abilities, and safeguarding the patient’s privacy.”

Furthermore, under subsection 1.A., Patient Involvement, the Code offers additional clarification, stating: “The dentist should inform the patient of the proposed treatment, and any reasonable alternatives, in a manner that allows the patient to become involved in treatment decisions.”

The argument can be made that by not discussing the fees for any proposed treatment with a patient before beginning, the dentist is not allowing the patient to become involved in the treatment decision. Failing to discuss the fees up front could be interpreted as a failure by the dentist to give due consideration to the patient’s needs, desires, and abilities, including the ability to pay for such services.

So it’s a good practice to have the entire office follow a protocol of informing patients of costs prior to treatment. Doing so will have a positive effect on the patients’ overall experience in your office. Likewise, the end result may also make a difference in the office’s bottom line.

To read more about the ethical requirements of involving patients with their treatment planning, read this article from Dr. Michael Maihofer, chair of the MDA Committee on Peer Review/Ethics.

Two Great HR Resources Available from the MDA

Office staffing issues happen in every dental practice — so be sure to take advantage of these two fantastic human resources benefits as part of your MDA membership.

Free consulting: As an exclusive benefit of MDA membership, your doctor is eligible to receive a half-hour of human resources consulting every month from noted human resources expert Jodi Schafer, SPHR, and her staff at Human Resources Management Services LLC. There’s no cost to you, and no future obligation. Schafer also writes the monthly “Staff Matters” columns in the MDA Journal and routinely speaks at MDA continuing education events. She’s one of Michigan’s leading HR authorities.

To get started, call the MDA’s Brandy Ryan, PHR, SHRM-PC, at 800-589-2632, ext. 416. In many cases, you’ll get an answer right away from the MDA. But if you need more detailed advice, the MDA will put you in touch with Schafer or an HRMS staff expert for your free consultation. Note that after the first 30 minutes of consultation, regular consulting rates apply. All calls to HRMS must be referred by the MDA to qualify for the free half-hour consultation.

Free e-book: You can also download a free MDA e-book, 50 Most-Asked Human Resources Questions, directly from the MDA website. Visit to get started. This e-book is a collection of some of the most-relevant “Staff Matters” columns previously published in the MDA Journal. Based on actual situations, these are the types of questions received over and over again from MDA dental offices. You’ll find this e-book very helpful, whether you’re an experienced dentist, a new dentist, or an office manager.

Contact Information

MDA Practice Management Department
Ginger Fernandez, RDH, RDA
Manager, Professional Review and Practice Management

MDA Human Resources Department
Brandy Ryan, PHR, SHRM-PC
MDA Director of Human Resources