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Do we have to allow our employees (current and former) to look at and copy their personnel records?   |    Free Pay Procedures Policy

Personnel records are the property of the employer. Accordingly, an organization generally has discretion over whether to give employees access to their personnel files, unless a state law or a court or agency requires access to these files. Federal law does not require employers to give employees access to personnel records. Get your FREE access to this and 100's of FREE HR resources today.

Many organizations allow current employees to inspect and even copy their personnel records as a goodwill gesture. This openness may lessen employees’ mistrust and concerns about the information in the files. Since all files should contain only job-related information, their content should not surprise the employee or create a basis for a legal claim.

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Approximately 20 states (including California, Illinois, and Massachusetts) require employers to give employees, and sometimes former employees, access to their personnel records. These laws generally allow employees to inspect their personnel files a limited number of times a year. Typically, some files are excluded from inspection, such as records pertaining to future promotion, third-party references, criminal investigations, and other sensitive information. In addition, state laws usually allow employers to require written requests for access to files. Some states also require employers to allow employees to copy their files.

[Creating HR Policies or Employee Handbook?]

A few of the states with personnel records access laws also give former employees the right to inspect their personnel files. For example, in Illinois, former employees can have access to and copy their file for up to a year after termination. Massachusetts has a similar law but does not limit the access to any specific time after termination. Many employers do not want to give access to former employees because they are concerned that these files may be used to support a legal claim against them. For this reason, employment law experts advise against giving access to former employees unless required by law.

Employees or former employees who file legal claims against an employer also may get access to their personnel records, and even other employees’ files, if required by a court or agency. For example, if a former employee files a discrimination claim in federal court, the court can order the employer to turn over all files related to the former employee and any similarly-situated employees.

 

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This article is not intended as legal advice. Readers are encouraged to seek appropriate legal or other professional advice.

 
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