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Generally, what most HR departments get concerned about are documents with the signature of the employee. In your industry, you probably would want to be most concerned about employment contracts for talent and employees (which may or may not be one in the same). Then there are the other agreements that employees may sign including non-competes, background investigation permissions, agreements to various policies, and so forth (many of these clauses may also be included in the employment contract). In your industry, be aware of releases for a person's image and any rights to future payments for syndicated productions.
 
Termination situations will also bring about a host of signatures and because of the potential for litigation, many HR departments take special care of those documents.
 
If you have written performance reviews that require the employee's signature, many HR departments care about those, particularly if they form foundation for termination.
 
Beyond that, most companies have employee relations files which will include employee investigations and complaints. In the benefits world, pension records and beneficiary designations are usually critical. Payroll these days is mostly automated, but many organizations will maintain files for wage garnishments.
 
If your company has employees who are expatriots or inpatriots (i.e. talent that is exported to or imported from other countries), there are a lot of government filings that may not be elsewhere -- tax documents, visas, work permits and so forth, along with relocation agreements.
 
As your HR department noted, much of this information is likely online in their HRIS application. But I would suggest that you ask them if you can view the file storage space and ask about the general contents of the file cabinets -- that should lead to conversations about what records are really critical to the business -- the sort of "oh yeah, shoot, we forgot about *those* agreements -- boy howdy if we lost those, we'd be in deep doo doo..."
 
It often takes a while to be allowed into the inner sanctum, but if you can take the approach of asking to see the space and ask generally about what is where (without looking in the cabinets or files), that should get you to an outcome that everyone will be happy with. So perhaps even starting with, "What documents do you have here that are signed by employees / talent? What would happen if they burned up?" That may get you beyond the moat dragon. 
 
I also will ask an HR deprtment to mock up a personnel file -- essentially, put a copy of every standard form that is typically in the file so that we can discuss them without getting into the specifics of an individual. As a consultant in the HR outsourcing industry, I usually get to look at representative files as well, since those files are generally going to be transferred to our firm. While there is value in seeing a mockup, picking up a really big (or small) file and thumbing through it will lead to conversations about documents that people forgot were in the files. It's a lot more sensitive when the files relate to your co-workers, and even in my own firm, HR only recently lowered the draw bridge, but it was a "look, but don't touch" sort of visit.
 
Again, focus on the usual hot button, which is the stuff that people sign. 
 
Patrick Cunningham, CRM

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