Topic of the Week Personnel Files
Personnel files are the employer’s record of your employment, and the documents that employers collect can negatively or positively affect you and your future employment. Federal law does not require employers to grant access to personnel files, but some states have laws which do provide for access. While other documents may not be part of your official personnel file, it is best to personally keep track of as many files as you are given, such as the documents you’re given when you’re hired, the company’s employee handbook, your reviews and disciplinary documents, and any other documents that you have signed or received from the employer. By doing this, you will have some of the original paperwork and you do not have to ask your employer about these documents, as some employers either deny access entirely, do not allow employees to make copies, or require employees to pay for copying any document they take from their personnel files.
1. What information should not be part of my personnel file?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits medical records from being part of the personnel file. This also includes records related to medical leave, reasonable accommodations, drug testing results, insurance benefits forms, workers’ compensation claims, etc. Documents that contain information such as date of birth, marital status, dependent information, Social Security number, immigration status, national origin, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and criminal history should also be kept in a separate file. This includes I-9 Forms.
2. Do I have the right to access my personnel files?
It depends. Personnel files are considered the property of the company, and federal law does not guarantee a right to access your personnel file. However, some states have laws relating to personnel files laws that grant or deny an employee access to his or her own personnel files. In addition, some employers have their own policies in regard to employee personnel file access. The employer’s policy may be found in the employee handbook, or you could ask the HR department about the company’s policy.
3. Can I remove something from my file that belongs to me?
Never take documents or papers that don't belong to you. Never even attempt to access information, either on computer or in company files, that you have no right to know. Anything that is personal to you, such as letters of praise or thanks that were sent to you, can be removed, but do so cautiously, as it may be better to copy it then remove it from your file. Anything related to the company or the operation of the company and its business, however, should not be taken without permission.While it may be tempting to take confidential company records or access computer files without authorization, this is a big mistake for a number of reasons. First of all, it may be illegal and you might end up facing criminal charges or civil claims as well as trying to fight your termination. Second, it may give the company an excuse to fire you where none existed before. Even if you can prove that you were illegally fired, your employer can use your misconduct to severely limit your ability to recover money or obtain re-employment in a lawsuit. Finally, if you signed a so-called "confidentiality agreement" at the time you were hired, taking confidential documents could subject you to civil action for breach of contract.