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Do former employees have the right to demand copies of their personnel files?

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Q. We recently fired an employee who worked in our office. Several weeks later, our HR department received a phone call from the man demanding a copy of his personnel file. Are we required to send him a copy?

A. No. Under section 1198.5 of the California Labor Code: “Every employee has the right to inspect [emphasis added] the personnel records that the em­­ployer maintains relating to the employee’s performance or to any grievance concerning the employee.”

The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), the agency charged with enforcing the state Labor Code, clarifies that former employees have this right of inspection until the statute of limitations on any claims they may have against their former employer expires.

So, the fact that the requesting party no longer works for your company probably doesn’t matter.

The DLSE also specifies that, although employers are not required to provide employees with a copy of their entire personnel file, the law requires that, upon request, employees must be given a copy of any instrument they signed relating to obtaining or holding a job.

Accordingly, the employer must produce copies of documents like job applications, acknowledgments for receipt of training or the employee handbook, warnings or performance improvement plans executed by the employee, etc.

Finally, the DLSE specifies that an employee’s request to inspect his or her personnel file need not be in writing. Requests may be either oral or written, or on a form provided by the employer. Information requested on such a form must be solely for the purpose of identifying the requesting employee so as to avoid disclosure to ineligible individuals.

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