Q. I support the concept of permitting employees to view their personnel files upon request, but I want to know if any law or regulation requires us to provide access. If so, where can I find out about this law/regulation? I’ve been unable to find the rule, and I’m beginning to suspect that we’ve passed this “law” around so long in HR that we believe it exists. –R.C., Alabama
A. The question of whether employees have legal rights to view their personnel files depends on state law. That’s true for current employees and terminated workers, too. Some state laws say personnel records are “company property” and need not be disclosed to employees. Other state laws say employees (or their representatives) have a legal right to review and/or photocopy their personnel records.
To discover your state’s law, ask your employment-law attorney or look it up in BNA’s Individual Employee Rights Manual (available at many public libraries).
Even if you aren’t required to allow employee access to personnel files, you may want to consider doing so anyway. If you’ve documented all your decisions well, that may actually help avoid litigation.
Note: Regardless of your state’s law, you’ll likely have to disclose the contents of an employee’s file if he or she files a lawsuit or an EEOC or state discrimination claim.
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