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Can a former employee demand access to her personnel file?

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Q. A former employee called HR asking to review her personnel file. We already let her review her file following termination last year, and nothing has changed in the personnel file since she reviewed it. Can we just tell the former employee “No”? Or can we ask her to pay for a copy of the file for her own records? Our HR manager is going on vacation next week. Can we wait to deal with the former employee’s request until after the human resources manager gets back from vacation?

A. An employee’s right to review her personnel file continues even after her employment is terminated. Minnesota law provides both current and former em­­ployees with certain rights to review their personnel files.

Even though this former employee already reviewed her personnel file, she has a right to review it again if enough time has passed since her last review. Employers must allow former employees to review their personnel files once per year as long as the file is maintained.

So, you should not decline the former employee’s request if she has not yet reviewed the personnel file this year. You can, however, require her to put her request to review the personnel file in writing. Having the request in writing provides documentation for your records. Rather than having the former employee review the personnel file in the office, you should provide her with a copy of the file, and you cannot require her to pay for the copy. The law requires that you provide the former employee with a copy of the personnel file free of charge once per year for as long as the record is maintained.

Despite your HR manager’s schedule, you need to act promptly on the former employee’s request once she makes the request in writing. You must comply within seven working days after receiving a request, unless the file is located outside Minnesota, in which case you have a little longer.

Also, keep in mind that the rules are slightly different for current employees, who may review their personnel files every six months.

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Megan L. Anderson is an attorney with Gray Plant Mooty’s Employment Law Practice Group in Minneapolis. Concentrating her practice in employment law counseling and litigation, she ­regularly advises employers and provides training on a variety of employment law issues. Contact her at megan.anderson@gpmlaw.com or (612) 632-3004.

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