Compliance Tip #8—Access to Personnel Files

As we all know, current employees have the right to inspect and copy personnel records relating to the employee’s performance or to any grievance concerning the employee. However, there are certain documents which may be excluded from the file by law, and employers should always be mindful of documents in each employee’s file.

Effective 1/1/2013, a new law effective greatly expands California law relating to inspection of personnel files.  The new law clarifies both current and former employees’ rights to inspect and copy contents of their personnel files. The prior law had been unclear as to the rights of former employees right to access their files.

Prior to 2013, an employee did not have an absolute right to copy the entire personnel file, but only documents s/he had signed relating to their employment. The new law allows current and former employees, or their representatives, to have a copy of the contents of the file if they pay the actual costs of copying.

The law also details where and how the records must be made available, including copies, what information can be excluded or redacted from the file, and penalties for failure to comply. The law lists employee rights and employer obligations.

Should an employee wish to inspect their file, they may request to do so in writing to the appropriate person, generally Human Resources. This law now applies to past employees as well as current. In addition, the records must be made available to the requesting employee within 30 days from the date of request (or up to 35 days if mutually  agreed upon).

An employer is required to keep all employment records for three years after an employee terminates.

(This is offered as a heads-up on what may affect your HR practices and is not intended to be legal advice. For more information on your specifics, please contact your labor attorney.)



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