Personnel records: A management tool and a legal requirement (Part 1 of 2)

Any farm that employs individuals is also required to keep certain personnel records. This two part series will cover the legal requirements and how to improve the usefulness of files for employee management.

In this discussion of farm personnel records management we are going to start with one important assumption that you as a farmer are familiar with the legal requirements that you must meet in hiring employees. One resource to help you with this is a Michigan State University ExtensionAgricultural Employer Checklist” article.

In this first article, we’ll stress more of the legal aspects of keeping personnel records. Personnel records provide a historical record on individual employees that can serve to protect you, as the employer, in possible legal proceedings down the road. Records also serve to meet the legal requirements mandated by federal and state laws. Personnel files contain very sensitive and confidential information, and therefore should be kept in a secure location, separate from other farm records. Access to these records should be limited to the employee and their supervisors that have a job-related need to know. This access should be in a designated, supervised location and no original records should ever leave the farm.

Which records should you keep on the farm to meet legal requirements? The list below are the more common requirements, but are not meant to be a complete list as requirements change over time, and requirements vary from state to state.

Records that employers need to keep:

  • I-9 forms on all employees (includes the employer in many cases due to business structure).
  • Original hiring records.
  • W-4 and State Employee Withholding Exemption Form (MI-W4 for Michigan).
  • Records of hours worked, including hours working for piece rate wages and wages paid to each employee.
  • A complete payroll record for each employee.

Employers with a certain number of employees may be required to retain additional records as well (for example MiOSHA records for employers with 11 or more employees). Additional information on personnel records that employers are required to keep, as well as the time that employers are required to retain these records can be found in Extension Bulletin E2966 titled “Labor Laws and Michigan Agriculture,” and also in the “Personnel Records Management Guide” found in the Labor section of the newMSU Extension Dairy Team website.

Personnel files should be audited at least once per year, ensuring that records are up to date and that the files only contain the required documents.

Personnel records for terminated employees should be kept in a separate secured location for the required time. I-9 forms should be filed separately from all other records and should be kept chronologically by year of start of employment.

Legal requirements for record keeping are important for all agricultural employers to follow, but we want to make the most of the records we keep. Part 2 of this article covers getting the best management buck out of our personnel records system.

A Podcast of this article is available at: Dairy Moosings Podcast.

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