HR Management & Compliance

From the Mailbag: Employee Access To Personnel Files

A subscriber recently wrote in with the following question: “What are the legal requirements that we must adhere to for allowing California employees access to their personnel files?” Here’s our response.

Under California law, both current and former employees may, at reasonable times and intervals, inspect any of their personnel files relating to the employee’s performance or to any grievance concerning the employee.

Specifically, such records include:

  • applications
  • payroll authorization forms
  • notices of commendation, warning, discipline, or termination
  • notices of layoff, leave of absence, or vacation
  • notices of wage attachment or garnishment
  • education and training records
  • performance reviews
  • attendance records.

Employers are not required to disclose records relating to the investigation of possible criminal offenses; letters of reference; or ratings, reports, or records that were obtained prior to the employee’s employment, prepared by identifiable examination committee members, or obtained in connection with a promotional examination.

Check out our new California Required Notices Package!

Former employees have the right of inspection until the statute of limitations on any claims they may have against their former employer expire.

Access to records need not be during work time. However, employers must:

  • Keep a copy of each employee’s personnel file at the employee’s workplace;
  • Make the employee’s personnel record available where the employee works within a reasonable period of time following the employee’s request; or
  • Allow the employee to inspect his or her personnel file at the location at which the files are stored with no loss of compensation to the employee.

Employers are not required to provide employees with a copy of their entire personnel files. However, the law does require that, upon request, employees be given a copy of any instrument they signed relating to the obtaining or holding of employment. Additionally, an employee may take notes regarding any document in his or her personnel file.

Get all the required posters — both state and federal — and pamphlets you need.

Reasonable times and intervals. The statute does not define the term “reasonable times and intervals.” However, according to the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, “reasonable times” means during the regular business hours of the office in which the records are maintained or at any time during the employee’s regularly scheduled shift. The employee must be given enough time to review his or her personnel file. The amount of time needed depends on the size and contents of the file.

According to the Division, “reasonable intervals” means once a year unless the file has been altered to adversely affect the employee or contains information relevant to an ongoing investigation affecting the employee.

Payroll records. Employers are required to permit current and former employees to inspect or copy their payroll records. An employer that receives a written or oral request to inspect or copy payroll records pertaining to a current or former employee must comply with the request as soon as possible, but no later than 21 calendar days from the date of the request.

Exposure and medical records. Employers are required to allow employees to inspect and copy records pertaining to exposure to toxic or hazardous substances in the workplace and medical records. This requirement applies to current employees, former employees, and employees being assigned or transferred to work where there will be exposure to toxic substances or harmful physical agents.

Whenever an employee or his or her designated representative requests a copy of an exposure or medical record, the employer must make sure that either a copy of the record is provided without cost, the copying facilities are made available without cost to the employee or designated representative, or the record is loaned to the employee or designated representative for a reasonable time to enable a copy to be made.

When an exposure or medical record has been provided previously without cost to an employee or designated representative, the employer may charge reasonable, nondiscriminatory administrative costs (e.g., search and copying expenses but not overhead expenses) for additional copies.

As long as employees have access as required by law, electronic copies should be adequate.

What’s in the Files is Only Part of the Picture

You also need to stay on top of what’s on your walls — specifically, the postings you’re required to put up under state and federal law.

The list of what you’re required to post changes frequently, and so do the versions of the documents you’re required to post. It’s a lot to keep track of. 

Fortunately, we’ve done the work for you! Our new, comprehensive California Required Notices Package includes:

  • All the required state and federal posters you need, consolidated into two convenient (and durable) laminated sheets
  • The applicable Wage Order poster for your industry
  • 20 copies each of the required pamphlets on sexual harassment, paid family leave, the state disability insurance provisions, and the state unemployment programs (again, you obtain the workers’ comp pamphlet from your insurer).

The best part is that you only need to order once, and we’ll send you the updated posters and pamphlets every year — it’s one-stop shopping at its best.

Click here for more info. If you want just the posters or just the pamphlets, we can do that for you, too.

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