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“I Want To See My File”

Being an employer in California comes with all sorts of headaches. And one that probably makes you reach for the ibuprofen at least as often as any other – if not more – is the recordkeeping headache.

Plus, as if the seemingly nonstop paperwork and report filing aren’t enough, sometimes you have to deal with employees who want to peek inside their personnel or other files.

Your first instinct might be to deny access, but that would be the wrong move. California law requires you to allow current and former employees access to some of your records. Today and tomorrow, we’ll tackle some of the common questions you might have about how to respond to employees’ requests to look at your records.

Q. What records can an employee inspect?

A. You must permit current and former employees to inspect their personnel files and records that relate to their performance or to any grievance concerning them. Former employees have the same right of inspection until the statute of limitations on any claims they may have against you expires.

Q. Are there rules about how I must provide access to those records?

A. You have three options for facilitating inspection:

  1. Keep a copy of each employee’s personnel records at the employee’s workplace.
  2. Make the employee’s personnel records available at the employee’s workplace within a reasonable period of time after the employee’s request.
  3. Allow the employee to inspect the personnel records at the location where they are stored, with no loss of compensation to the employee. (If the employee must travel to the location of the records, the inspection must be during the employee’s shift, and you must compensate the employee for that time at the regular pay rate.)

The Complete Guide to HR Recordkeeping in California Read about it.


Q. Do I have to provide the employee with a copy of his or her entire personnel file?

A. No. You must only provide employees or job applicants, on their request, with a copy of any document they signed that relates to obtaining or holding employment. For example, you must provide copies of signed employment applications, employment contracts, and discipline-related documents.

Q. Exactly which personnel records am I required to turn over for inspection?

A. “Personnel records” are generally defined as those used to determine an employee’s qualifications for promotion, additional compensation, or disciplinary action (including termination). That might include the following:

  • employment 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

Answers to all your toughest California HR recordkeeping questions. Click here for more info.   


Tomorrow, some more recordkeeping Q&A, including a rundown of what you’re actually allowed to withhold from curious employee eyes.

Download your free copy of 20 Must-Have Employee Handbook Policies today!

HRPA: California Human Resource Forms, California Human Resources (HR), California Human Resource Policies, California Recordkeeping