Question:

An employee has demanded copies of all documents in his personnel file. What should I do?

Answer:

California Labor Code Section 1198.5 allows private employees to view, but not necessarily copy, their personnel files. Former and current employees may, at “reasonable times and intervals,” inspect their personnel files relating to their performance or to any grievance concerning the employee. The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement defines “reasonable times” as during the regular business hours of the office in which the records are maintained, or at any time during the employee’s regularly scheduled shift. “Reasonable intervals” generally means once a year.
Among the records in a personnel file that employees are entitled to see are:

  • Employment applications;
  • Payroll authorization forms;
  • Commendation, warning, discipline, and/or termination notices;
  • Layoff, leave of absence, and vacation notices;
  • Wage attachment or garnishment notices;
  • Any document the employee signed relating to obtaining or holding employment;
  • Performance appraisals/reviews; and
  • Attendance records.

Employees are not entitled to view:

  • Records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense;
  • Letters of reference; and
  • Records that were obtained prior to employment, prepared by identifiable examination committee members, or obtained in connection with a promotional examination.

Employers can require employees to inspect their personnel file when the employee is off duty. However, if the file is not kept at the employee’s worksite and the employee has to travel to where the file is maintained, inspection of the file must be done during the employee’s normal working hours and the employee must be compensated for that time at the regular rate of pay.

Employers are not required to provide employees with a copy of their entire personnel file. However, California Labor Code Section 432 requires that, upon request, employees be given a copy of any document they signed relating to the obtaining or holding of employment.

Employers must also maintain accurate payroll records on each employee and permit current and former employees to inspect or copy their payroll records. Employers must comply with a payroll records’ request within 21 calendar days from the date of the request. Employers may charge for copies of payroll records.

Lastly, California Labor Code Section 6408(d) requires employers to allow employees to inspect and copy records pertaining to exposure to potentially toxic or hazardous substances in the workplace. This law applies to current and former employees, and employees who are being assigned or transferred to work where there will be potential exposure to such substances. Whenever an employee requests a copy of an exposure record, the employer must ensure that either a copy of the record is provided without cost, copying facilities are made available without cost, or the record is loaned to the employee for a reasonable time to make copies. When an exposure record has been provided previously without cost to an employee, the employer may charge reasonable, nondiscriminatory administrative costs (e.g., search and copying expenses but not overhead expenses) for additional copies.

For further information regarding personnel files and records, please visit the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement website at http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/DLSE-FAQs.htm.
 
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