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Personnel Files and Reference Checks


On June 7, 2018, the Board of Regents adopted Resolution 11038 on employee personnel files and reference checks, which required the development or modification of certain human resources policies for all UW institutions regarding:

  1. Documenting sexual harassment allegations and investigations;
  2. Maintaining personnel files and conducting reference checks; and
  3. Exchanging personnel files between all UW institutions and State of Wisconsin agencies

Summary of Changes

Effective January 1, 2019, Operational Policy HR13: Personnel Files and Operational Policy TC1: Recruitment Policies were modified and published to satisfy these new requirements.

As part of the modification to the Operational Policy HR13: Personnel Files, updates were made to clearly identify a list of what must be in an employee’s personnel file, define when and with whom personnel files are shared, and require appropriate documentation of sexual violence and sexual harassment in personnel files.

In addition, updates to the Operational Policy TC1: Recruitment Policies were made to ensure consistent disclosure of violations of sexual violence and sexual harassment policies to hiring institutions. Furthermore, institutions are required to ask about sexual violence and sexual harassment during the hiring process.

The Office of Human Resources is working diligently to ensure campus practices comply with these new requirements. If you have questions about either of these policy revisions, please contact our office at or (920) 424-1166.


Personnel Files

Q:    Who will be responsible for requesting the file? 

A: The institutional HR office will be responsible unless otherwise noted by institutional policy.

Q:    Are there any changes to what documents do or do not go in the personnel file?

A: Yes.  Personnel files will now contain any final personnel decision, any settlements or negotiated resolutions (or where they are stored), and any active investigation notices (see question about leaving during an active investigation for more clarification).  Additionally, clarification was added on documents that should be excluded from the personnel file (i.e., medical or FMLA documentation, confidential reference letters, investigation materials).

Q:    Can supervisors maintain a confidential, local “working” file containing copies of pertinent personnel-related records that the supervisor utilizes on an operational basis?

A: Yes.  As long as all of the correct documentation goes into the personnel file, a supervisor may maintain a working file which may include their personal notes.  These notes are not considered to be a personnel record so long as they are prepared by the supervisor for their own use and are not shared with anyone else.

Q:    Will unsubstantiated allegations of sexual violence and sexual harassment be included in the personnel file?

A: No.  Only substantiated violations will be included in the personnel file.  The only exception is the notice of active investigation letter, which is placeholder letter included in the personnel file until the investigation is complete.  Once the investigation is completed, the notice is removed. 

Q:    Why are we only asking about sexual violence and sexual harassment?  Why not ask about other misconduct, violations, or issues?

A: Special emphasis has been placed upon sexual violence and sexual harassment because the UW System contains a large number of vulnerable populations who are particularly affected by this issue.  Additionally, nothing prevents hiring administrators from asking questions about other types of misconduct; in fact, it is recommended that they do.


Performing Reference Checks on Applicants

Q:   When and who should be asking reference check questions?

A: At a minimum, references must be checked on the final candidate before hire. Each hiring manager, or their designee, is responsible for performing professional reference checks for final candidates.

To comply with the updated requirements, the Office of Human Resources will be performing the additional conduct reference checks that are targeted on collecting information on sexual violence and sexual harassment only. In areas with high volume hiring, this workload may need to be shared over time.

Q:    How many employers will Human Resources contact for conduct reference checks?

A: At a minimum, the most recent employer as well as any previous State or UW System employers from the past 7 years. 

Q: How will the hiring manager know when the conduct reference checks have been completed? 

A: There will be no formal notice to the hiring manager when the conduct reference check is completed. The hiring manager should carry out the recruitment process as they normally would. The only time the hiring manager will be contacted is if the information disclosed would impact the individual’s employment eligibility. 

Q: Are reference checks required when changing positions within an institution (e.g., waivers, inter-unit transfers, or other job changes)?

A: Yes.  Reference checks must be conducted when hiring for a new position even if the person being hired is already an employee at that institution.  As the institution should already have all the relevant information, this may be as simple as reviewing the employee’s personnel file.

Q:    If during the reference check it is discovered that the candidate violated a sexual violence or sexual harassment policy, is that an automatic disqualifier for the position? 

A: No.  The information gathered from the previous employer and from the candidate must be considered.  Divisional leadership will be contacted by Human Resources when concerns surface to make a final determination. 


Providing References on Current or Former Employees

Q:    If I am contacted as part of a reference check on a current or past employee, is there anything I am required to say?

A: Anyone acting on behalf of a UW System institution (e.g., supervisors, HR dept) must use the disclaimer below:

““All questions related to employee misconduct including sexual misconduct are addressed only by our human resources department, which can be contacted by email at . This isn’t meant to imply that this candidate has committed any misconduct but is something we are required by policy to tell all potential employers.”

Colleagues with no supervisory responsibilities are not required to use the disclaimer.

Q: Do supervisors and HR representatives always need to read the disclaimer when contacted for a reference?

A: Yes.  Whether to give the disclaimer at the end of the call or the beginning is left up to the campus but either way it must always be performed even if they don’t ask about it.

Q: How will the privacy of a victim of sexual harassment be protected when information about the harasser is disclosed by a reference?

A: Only policy violations will be disclosed to the appropriate requesting party.  Names or personal identifying information of a victim will not be shared. 

Q:    Should responses to required questions for candidates and reference checks be documented and stored somewhere?

A: Yes.  A notation or summary of the reference and any relevant determination documentation should be kept in accordance with institutional policy.

Q:    Under TC 1 potential employers should receive an objective evaluation of the candidate’s training, experience, skills, and abilities.  Does that mean that any potential employer representative who calls is entitled to receive information about the current or former employee?

A: Yes.  How detailed the information should be depends on the situation and on institutional policies and practices.  Generally, the employee providing the reference has considerable discretion when determining what information should be provided.

  Phone:  (920) 424-1166

  Fax: (920) 424- 2021


Monday - Friday 7:45AM - 4:30PM

  Dempsey Hall 328
800 Algoma Blvd. 
Oshkosh, WI 54901