An employee’s personnel file contains important work-related information specific to him or her. This may include:
- Job description.
- Job application.
- Employment offer.
- W-4 form.
- Employee benefits forms.
- Emergency contacts.
- Employment contract.
- Performance reviews.
- Complaints from clients or co-workers.
- Attendance records.
- Disciplinary actions.
- Termination records.
Employees may request to see this information for various reasons, such as to ensure certain records are up to date or because they plan to resign or are concerned about getting fired. However, no federal law requires private employers to give employees access to their personnel files.
However, many states have this requirement. In some states, such as California, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Michigan and Minnesota, employers must allow employees to view their personnel files if the employee makes the request in writing.
In other states, such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Delaware and Illinois, employers can establish a policy mandating written requests.
While a state may give employees the right to view their personnel files, there are usually restrictions on what they can see. For instance, employees are typically permitted to view performance reviews and documents relating to bonuses, raises and promotions, but the state may bar them from viewing references from previous employers or documentation pertaining to workplace violations.
Additionally, the state may dictate whether employees can make copies of their personnel files and, if so, who should bear the cost; the time frame in which employees must be allowed to view their personnel files; and how many times employees should be able to inspect their personnel files.
For example, although employers in Pennsylvania do not have to let employees make copies of their personnel files, employees can take notes while reviewing them. In Massachusetts, employers must let employees view their personnel files within seven days of their request. In Colorado, employees can make copies, and employers can charge a reasonable fee for supplying the documents.
While state law typically gives both current and former employees the right to access their personnel files, special rules may apply to former employees. For instance, current employees in Minnesota can view their personnel files once every six months, but former employees can do so only once during the first year after separation.
Also, a state may give employees the right to rebut the information in their personnel files if they disagree with it and are otherwise unable to get their employer to remove or fix the record. Some states even require that employers notify employees whenever negative information has been placed in their personnel files.
Finally, note that there may be subtleties in state rules not covered here, and state laws and regulations are subject to change.
If your state or local government does not address the issue of employees’ rights to access their personnel files, you do not have to allow employees to inspect the contents — unless you are compelled to do so via another legal means, such as a lawsuit.