An employee’s personnel file usually contains information related to their performance, salary, and any investigations of misconduct or medical issues. As a result, these records are generally considered private and can be accessed by only the employer and the employee. Some types of employees can access the files of other employees, however, such as when a supervisor needs to review performance evaluations or when the hiring department needs to compare employee salaries.
The Privacy Act
The Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, limits the amount of information federal agencies, government employers, and the military can keep on its employees.
Your company may enact a policy that provides specifically who can view your personnel file. Employees who violate this policy may be subject to discipline. While paper versions of the file should be kept locked in a filing cabinet, electronic versions in your employer’s database should be withheld from general access by other employees and kept behind a password or other authentication system.
Any information regarding an employee’s medical condition needs to comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This information should be kept separate from the main personnel file. The people who can access this information should be limited to the employee’s supervisor, insurance companies, and people who need to give the employee medical treatment, as well as government officials if needed. Employees who participate in group health care plans through their employers have additional privacy rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Your Right to View Your File
If you want information such as your address and phone number in your personnel file to be kept confidential, file a written request with your employer.
You likely have a right to view part or all of your personnel file, although a supervisor or another representative of your employer may need to be present while you are viewing it. (Former employees sometimes have this right as well, as discussed below.) You probably do not have a right to view information in your file that relates to the personal information of another employee or information about internal investigations of your alleged misconduct. You may be able to make copies of some documents in your personnel file, although you are less likely to be able to copy information related to performance reviews than information related to objective data like your salary.
Even if your state law does not specifically provide that you have a right to view your personnel file, you may have this right if your company provides it in an internal policy. Many companies do this to bolster the employment relationship.
Former Employees Viewing Personnel Files
While some states allow only current employees to view their personnel files, other states extend this right to former employees. Sometimes a former employee who is allowed to view their file finds that it contains documents that were not in the file when they last saw it before they were fired. You may feel suspicious about this situation and wonder if the document was created after your termination to justify it. This may or may not be the case. If you have been terminated and are considering legal action, you may want to ask to view your file to the extent that company policy permits it. This will give you a clear understanding of what the file contained at the time of your termination.
Accessing Your Personnel File: State Law
State laws govern:
How and if you can access your file
If you are entitled to a copy of your personnel file
The process on correcting or contesting information in your file