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Are we required to allow former employees to review their personnel records?

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Q. If a former employee asks to inspect his or her personnel file, are we required to comply?

A. Yes, California law provides that current and former employees (or their representatives) have the right to inspect and obtain a copy of their personnel files and records.

This applies to records that are used or have been used to determine the employee’s qualifications for promotion, additional compensation or disciplinary action, including termination. These often include:

  • The employee’s application for employment
  • Payroll authorization form
  • Commendation, warning, discipline and termination notices
  • Notices of layoffs, leaves of absence and vacations
  • Notices of wage attachment or garnishment
  • Records involving education and training
  • Performance appraisals and reviews
  • Attendance records.

However, the right to inspect personnel files does not apply to everything in the file. For example, employees do not have a right to see letters of reference or records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense.

In addition, employees do not have the right to access ratings, reports or records that were obtained prior to the worker’s employment, that were prepared by identifiable examination committee members or that were obtained in connection with a promotional examination.

Inspections must be allowed “at reasonable intervals and at reasonable times” and within 30 days of an employee’s written request to inspect or copy the personnel file. If both parties consent, this can be extended to 35 days. Employers need only comply with a former employee’s request once a year. 

California Senate Bill 1252, approved by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 17, clarified that employees have a right to “receive a copy” of the records and are not required to make their own copies of personnel files. Employers can still charge the employee for the cost of copying the documents.

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