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Q.Do employees have the right to access their employee personnel file?

A.Yes. Although personnel records are the property of the employer, in most states (including California) employees have a legal right to review their own employee personnel file and records. In California, Labor Code Section 1198.5 provides that both past and present emplpoyees have the right to inspect that portion of their personnel file that relates to the employee’s performance or to any grievance concerning the employee.

The employee's right to inspect his or her personnel file and records does not apply to records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense, letters of reference, or ratings, reports, or records that (a) were obtained before the employee’s employment began, (b) were prepared by an identifiable examination committee member, or (c) were obtained in connection with a promotional exam.

While the employee cannot demand to see their personnel file any time they want, the employer must produce the employee's personnel file within a reasonable time. Failure to comply may result in a $750 penalty.

In California, the right to inspect does nto apply to: (1) employees of state agencies or (2) public safety officers.

In many states, employees also have the right to copy the documents in their employee personnel file. In California, Labor Code Section 226(b) permits the employee to inspect and copy his or her payroll records within 21 calendar days of request.

During any inspection, the employer has the right to be present to make sure nothing is added, removed or altered in the personnel file.

Employers are well advised to keep individual employee personnel files, which should contain job application, resume, offer letter, employment contract, salary and benefits information, government form (INS Form 1-9 and IRS Form W-4), emnergency contact information, performance evaluations, disciplinary actions, and the employee's signed acknowledgment of receipt of the employee handbook (if any). Because employee personnel files often contain sensitive personal information, the employer should also implement policies and procedures to imit access to personnel files to those with a need, or a legal right, to view the information. Finally, don't put anything in an employee's personnel file that you would not want a judge or a jury to see.

© Copyright 1999-2018 Melissa C. Marsh. All Rights Reserved. All Information on this website is subject to a Disclaimer and Use Agreement. This information is provided as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. We advise you to seek the advice of competent legal counsel to address your own specific questions, facts and circumstances.