The HR Specialist

Access to Personnel Files: 50 State Laws

05/10/2011

No federal law grants employees the right to inspect their personnel files. However, many states do give employees such rights and spell out the terms under which employees are allowed to inspect those files. 

Below is a list of state laws. It is a good idea to keep apprised of your state's access statutes, or a court or federal agency may do it for you.

Note: Even if your state has a law giving former employees the right to access their personnel files, no law requires an employer to send the complete file. Typically, the individual would be allowed to view the file on the company’s premises and to make copies of documents, which often can be at the individual's expense.

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As always, check state laws for complete regulation language, and to ensure you stay on top of any recently approved changes. (Updated November 2010)

Alabama: Public employers only.  Notwithstanding regulations to the contrary, when a disciplinary document is placed in an employee's personnel file, his/her employer must supply a copy of the documentation to the employee no later than 10 days after its inclusion in the personnel file.

Alaska: Employees or former employees are allowed to inspect or make copies of their own personnel files.  Employers are allowed to charge employees a reasonable copying fee. A state employee has the right to examine his/her own personnel files and may authorize others to examine those files.

Arizona: Employers must allow an employee or his/her designated representative to inspect and copy payroll records pertaining to that employee.

Arkansas: Public employers only.  Public employers are covered under Arkansas's Freedom of Information Act.  Therefore, personnel and evaluation records must be made available to the person about whom the records are maintained or that person's designated representative.
 
California: Employees are allowed to inspect all documents related to their qualifications for employment, promotion, additional compensation, termination, or discipline.  Employees are not permitted access to: records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense; letters of reference; or ratings, reports, or records that were obtained prior to the employee's employment, prepared by identifiable examination committee members, or obtained in connection with a promotional examination.

California revised and expanded its definition of employment records to include records maintained by any labor organization representing an employee. Previously, only material maintained by the current or former employer of an employee was open for inspection.

Colorado: Public employers only. The state public records law requires personnel records be made available to employees and their supervisors. Employees may also examine their graded promotion exams.

Connecticut: An employer must permit an employee to inspect the employee's personnel file within a reasonable time after receiving a written request.  Employers are allowed to charge employees a reasonable copying fee. Employers are required to obtain and retain employment applications in a secure manner and take reasonable measures to destroy or make the applications unreadable upon disposal. Employers must also permit an employee's physician, or a physician selected by the employer and agreed upon by the employee, to inspect medical records relating to that employee.

Connecticut amended its Personnel Files Act so that the Labor Commissioner is able to secure by subpoena an employer against whom a complaint has been filed; an employee who has filed a complaint that is the subject of such investigation; any other person having custody or control of such employee's medical record or personnel file; or any person whose testimony may be pertinent to the matter under investigation, together with any records relevant to the investigation.

Delaware: Employers are required to permit an employee to inspect the employee's personnel file within a reasonable time upon request by the employee.  Employees have the right to inspect the personnel files their employers have used to determine their qualifications for employment, promotion, additional pay, discharge, or disciplinary action.

The term "personnel file" does not include records relating to: the investigation of a possible criminal offense; letters of reference; documents that are being prepared for use in civil, criminal, or grievance procedures; materials that are used by the employer to plan for future operations; or information available to the employee under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

District Of Columbia: Official personnel records of a public employee must be disclosed to the employee, or his/her representative, in the presence of a representative of the employer or agency that has custody of the records.  Employees may not have access to the following records: 1) confidential information from a person under an agreement that the identity of the source of the information will not be disclosed, unless all data identifying the source of the information is removed; 2) medical records that, if disclosed, in the opinion of the employee's doctor, would be injurious to the health of the employee; 3) criminal investigation records; 4) suitability inquiries and confidential questionnaires undertaken in accordance with the District's merit system; and 5) test and examination materials that may continue to be used for promotion and selection decisions (a description of the test and general results may be disclosed, however).

Florida: Employees and former employees or their representatives have the right to access medical records concerning the employee's exposure to toxic substances. Employers are allowed to charge employees a reasonable copying fee.

Georgia: Public employers only. When an employee of the state or of a county, municipality, or school district is terminated and, as a condition of a settlement agreement, the personnel file of the employee is to be partially or totally purged, the former employee's personnel records, including both the personnel file and any associated work-history records, must be clearly designated with a notation that such records have been purged as a condition of a settlement agreement. The notation must be disclosed to any subsequent governmental entity seeking information as to a former employee's work history for the sole purpose of making a hiring decision.  In addition, if a physical examination is required as a condition of public employment, such medical information must be retained in a separate, confidential file and not part of the personnel file.

Georgia has amended its public disclosure law to provide that records that reveal the home address, home telephone number, or Social Security number of, or insurance or medical information about, public employees or teachers and employees of a public school are exempt from disclosure.

Hawaii: State agency employees may have access to their personnel records relating to employment history and other state agency personal record information.  Employees may not have access, however, to: 1) information related to criminal investigations; 2) information that would identify a source of information under confidentiality; 3) test scores and examination materials that would affect the test's effectiveness or the examination process; 4) information related to investigations concerning current or pending actions against the employee; and 5) any other information required to be withheld by law.

Each agency that maintains any accessible personnel record must make that record available to the individual to whom it pertains in a reasonably prompt manner and in a reasonably intelligible form.  Where necessary, the agency must provide a translation into common terms of any machine readable code or any code or abbreviation employed for internal agency use.

Idaho: A public official, or his/her representative, may inspect or copy the official's personnel records, excluding information used to screen and test for employment.

Illinois: Employees may make written requests to view their personnel files, including records used to determine that employee's qualifications for employment, promotion, transfer, additional compensation, discharge, or other disciplinary action.  Employers are allowed to charge employees a reasonable copying fee.

The following documents may be withheld: medical records, letters of reference, test documents, staff planning materials, information about a person other than the employee, records subject to a court proceeding, or any records alleging criminal activity.

The state amended its Personnel Record Review Act to provide that an employer who receives a request for records of a disciplinary report, a letter of reprimand, or other disciplinary action in relation to an employee under the Freedom of Information Act may provide notification to the employee in written form or through electronic mail.

Indiana: Public employees have the right to access their personnel file information.

Iowa: Both public and private employees are permitted access to evaluations, disciplinary records, and other information concerning employer/employee relations.  An employee may not have access to employment references.  Employers are allowed to charge employees a reasonable copying fee.

Kansas: Public employers only.  Public records must be open for inspection.  However, personnel records, performance ratings, or individually identifiable records about employees or applicants are exempted from the open records requirement.  The names, positions, salaries, and lengths of service of employees, however, are subject to disclosure.

Kentucky: Public employers only.  Individuals have the right to inspect any records that relate to them or contain their name, excluding employment examination materials or records relating to ongoing criminal or administrative investigations.

Louisiana: Employees have a right to access records relating to any confirmed positive drug tests and any records relating to the results of any relevant certification, review, or suspension/revocation of certification proceedings.  In addition, any current or former employee or the employee's designated representative has the right to access employer records of employee exposure to potentially toxic materials or harmful physical agents, and to employee medical records and any analyses made using employee exposure or medical records.

Maine: Both private and public employers must provide employees with an opportunity to review their personnel file, including formal or informal employee evaluations and reports relating to the employee's character, credit, work habits, compensation and benefits, and non-privileged medical records.  If the employer does not comply within 10 days of receiving a written request, the employee may sue for damages and attorney fees.  Employers are allowed to charge employees a reasonable copying fee.  

Records may be maintained in any form, including paper, microfiche, or electronic form.  Employers that maintain records in a form other than paper must have available to employees, former employees, or duly authorized representatives of employees or former employees the equipment necessary to review and copy a personnel file.

Maryland: Public employees have the right to inspect their personnel records.  The official who supervises the employee's work also has the right to inspect the employee's personnel records. A custodian of a personnel file has 10 days to respond to a request for a personnel record.

Massachusetts: Access to personnel records must be provided by both public and private employers upon written request.  An employer is required to allow an employee to review his/her personnel record only two times each calendar year. "Personnel records" are records kept by an employer that identify an employee, to the extent that the records are used relative to that employee's qualifications for employment, promotion, transfer, additional compensation, or disciplinary action. A personnel record may not include information of a personal nature about a person other than the employee if disclosure of the information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of the other person's privacy.

An amendment to the Massachusetts Personnel Records Statute requires employers to notify an employee within 10 days of placing in the employee's personnel file any information that is used, has been used, or may be used to negatively affect the employee's qualification for employment, promotion, transfer, additional compensation, or the possibility that the employee will be subject to disciplinary action.  Also, upon written request by the employee, the employer must provide the employee with the opportunity to review his/her personnel file within five business days of the request.  An employer is required to allow an employee to review his/her personnel record only two times each calendar year.  However, a records review that results from the notification requirement relating to negative records does not count as one of the two permitted annual reviews.

Michigan: Upon written request, employers must allow employees to view their personnel records. Employers are allowed to charge employees a reasonable copying fee.  "Personnel record" means a record kept by the employer that identifies the employee, and that is used relative to that employee's qualifications for employment, promotion, transfer, additional compensation, or disciplinary action.

A personnel record does not include: employee references; materials relating to the employer's staff planning with respect to more than one employee; medical reports and records made or obtained by the employer; information of a personal nature about a person other than the employee; information that is kept separately from other records and that relates to a criminal investigation; records limited to grievance investigations that are kept separately; records maintained by an educational institution that are directly related to a student and are considered to be education records; and records kept by an executive, administrative, or professional employee that are not accessible or shared with other persons.

Minnesota: Employers must provide employees, who make a good-faith request, with the opportunity to review their personnel records, including: an application for employment; wage or salary histories; notices of commendation, warning, discipline, or termination; authorization for a deduction or withholding from pay; fringe benefit information; leave records; and the employment history with the employer, including salary and compensation history, job titles, dates of promotions, transfers and other changes, attendance records, performance evaluations, and retirement records.  Employers are allowed to charge employees a reasonable copying fee.

Personnel records do not include: written references supplied to the employer by another person; information relating to the investigation of a violation of a criminal or civil statute by an employee; education records maintained by an educational institution and directly related to a student; results of employer testing, except a cumulative test score; information relating to the employer's salary system and staff planning; written comments or data of a personal nature about a person other than the employee; written comments or data kept by the employee's supervisor or an executive, administrative, or professional employee, provided they are kept in the sole possession of the author of the record; privileged information or information that is not discoverable in a Workers' Compensation, grievance, arbitration, administrative, or judicial proceeding; any portion of a written or transcribed statement by a co-worker of the employee that concerns the job performance or job-related misconduct of the employee; and medical reports and records.

Employers of 20 or more employees are required to provide written notice to a job applicant upon hire, and to an employee upon termination, of the rights and remedies provided in the Minnesota Personnel Records Statute.

Specifically, employers must advise job applicants and active employees that: 1) they have a right to review their personnel record upon written request once every six months; 2) the employer must make the record, or an accurate copy, available for review during normal hours at the employee's place of employment or at another reasonably nearby location, but need not make the record available during the employee's actual working hours; 3) the employer may require that the review be made in its presence or the presence of its designee; 4) after the review and upon the employee's written request, the employer is required to provide a copy, at no charge, of the record to the employee; and 5) if the employee disputes specific information contained in the record, and agreement is not reached to remove or revise the disputed information, the employee may submit a written statement identifying the disputed information and explaining the employee's position, which then must be included as part of the personnel record.

Upon termination, employers must notify former employees in writing that: 1) they have the right to review their personnel record upon written request once within the year after separation of employment, and 2) upon written request, the employer shall provide a copy, at no charge, of the personnel record to the employee.

Also, employers must provide access to the personnel record no later than seven working days after receipt of the request if the personnel record is located in Minnesota, or no later than 14 working days after the receipt of the request if the personnel record is located outside of Minnesota.

Mississippi: No provision.

Missouri: No provision.

Montana: State employees must have access to all their employee personnel records, and may file a written response to information contained in their employee personnel records.  These employee responses must become a part of the record.

Nebraska: Public school districts only.  Teachers, administrators, or full-time employees of any public school may make a written request to inspect their own personnel files.

Job application materials submitted by applicants, other than finalists, who have applied for employment by any public body, unless publicly disclosed in an open court, open administrative proceeding, or open meeting or disclosed by a public entity pursuant to its duties, may be withheld from the public by the lawful custodian of the records.  Job application materials means employment applications, résumés, reference letters, and school transcripts.   Finalist means any applicant who: reaches the final pool of applicants, numbering four or more, from which the successful applicant is to be selected; is an original applicant when the final pool of applicants numbers less than four; or is an original applicant and there are four or fewer original applicants.

Nevada: Upon request of the employee, a private or public employer, including employee referral agencies, is required to give an employee a reasonable opportunity to inspect the employee's personnel records.  Employees are allowed to inspect files containing information used by the employer to determine the employment qualifications of that employee, as well as any disciplinary action taken against the employee, including termination.  Employers may not keep secret records of employment.  Employers are allowed to charge employees a reasonable copying fee.

The records to which employees have access do not include confidential reports from previous employers or investigative agencies, or information concerning an investigation, arrest, or a conviction of that employee for a violation of the law.

New Hampshire: Employers must provide employees a reasonable opportunity to inspect personnel files.  Employers are not required to disclose information in the personnel file of a requesting employee who is the subject of an investigation at the time of request if disclosure of such information would prejudice law enforcement, or information relating to a government security investigation.  Employers are allowed to charge employees a reasonable copying fee.

New Jersey: No provision.

New Mexico: No provision.

New York: Public employers only.  A public officer is entitled to access records pertaining to that officer, provided reasonable proof of identity is presented.

North Carolina: Employees and former employees have a right to access personnel records indicating their exposure to toxic materials or harmful physical agents. Public employees are entitled to examine their own personnel files, except reference letters and certain medical information. The state has also enacted a law that imposes penalties for breaching the confidentiality of school employee personnel files.

North Dakota: Public employers only.  An employee or his/her representative must be permitted to inspect the employee's official personnel file during normal business hours.  Employers are allowed to charge employees a reasonable copying fee.

Ohio: Employees have a statutory right to access any medical records from a physical exam required by the employer as a condition of employment, or an exam required as a result of an injury or disease relating to the employee's job.  Employees may obtain records from the employer, a physician, a health care provider, or a laboratory with a written request.

Oklahoma: Unless the records are made confidential by law, an employee of a public body has the right to access his/her own personnel files.

Oregon: At the request of an employee, an employer is required to provide a reasonable opportunity for the employee to inspect his/her personnel files, including records that are used to determine the employee's qualifications for employment, promotion, additional compensation, or termination.  Employers are allowed to charge employees a reasonable copying fee. 

Personnel records do not include: records relating to the conviction, arrest, or investigation of conduct constituting a violation of criminal laws; confidential reports from previous employers; or records maintained in compliance with the law dealing with access to personnel records from institutions of higher education.

Personnel records must be presented for inspection or provided to the employee (certified copy) within 45 days of request.  However, employers and employees are allowed to agree to an extension of time for copying and inspection.

Pennsylvania: An employer shall, upon request, permit an employee to review the employee's personnel files.  Employees have access to files pertaining to qualifications for employment, promotion, additional compensation, termination, or disciplinary action.

Access to the following records is not required: records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense; letters of reference; documents being developed or prepared for use in civil, criminal, or grievance procedures; medical records; materials used by the employer to plan future operations; or information available to an employee under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Rhode Island: An employer is required to permit inspection of personnel files containing information that was used by the employer to determine the employee's job qualifications, promotion, extra pay, termination, or disciplinary action, provided the employee gives seven days' advance notice.  Employers are allowed to charge employees a reasonable copying fee.

Access to personnel files does not apply to records relating to: the investigation of a possible criminal offense or records prepared for use in civil, criminal, or grievance proceedings; any letters of reference; recommendations; managerial records kept or used only by the employer; confidential reports from previous employers; and managerial planning records.

South Carolina: Employers must grant employees and former employees or their representatives access to records concerning the monitoring and measuring of employee exposure to potentially toxic materials or harmful physical agents.  Employees must also be granted access to records that indicate the individual employee's own exposure to toxic materials or harmful physical agents.
 
South Dakota: Public employers only.  Employment examinations and performance appraisals are excluded from records that are otherwise subject to inspection by the public.

Tennesse: State and local government employees are permitted access to their personnel files at any reasonable time.

Texas: Public employers only.  Personnel records of government employees are public records under statutory law.  Employers may not disclose information in personnel files to the public if the disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of the employee's personal privacy.

Utah: Public employees have the right to examine and make copies of documents in their own personnel files upon written request.  This right does not extend to documents classified as confidential under the Utah Information Practices Act.  Employers are allowed to charge employees a reasonable copying fee. 

Vermont: Public employees or designated representatives of employees are entitled to have access to all information that may be contained in their personnel files.

Virginia: Public employers only.  Personnel records containing information concerning identifiable individuals are exempt from inspection and copying under the state's Freedom of Information Act, but access may not be denied to the person who is the subject of such records.

Washington: An employer is required to make any or all of an employee's personnel files available.  The employee may review all information in the employee's personnel files that is regularly maintained by the employer as a part of its business records or that may be given to persons outside the company for reference purposes. The employee may not have access to files relating to an investigation of a possible criminal offense, or records relating to an impending lawsuit. Personal information in files maintained for employees, appointees, or elected officials of any public agency to the extent that disclosure would violate their right to privacy are exempt from public disclosure and copying.

West Virginia: No provision.

Wisconsin: An employee is permitted to inspect personnel documents used in determining the employee's qualifications for employment, transfer, additional compensation, termination, disciplinary action, as well as medical records.  Employers are allowed to charge employees a reasonable copying fee.

The right of an employee or the employee's designated representative to inspect his/her personnel records does not apply to: records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense; letters of reference; any portion of a test document, except for a cumulative test score; materials used by the employer for staff management planning; information of a personal nature about a person other than the employee; an employer that does not maintain personnel records; and records relevant to any other impending claim between the employer and the employee that may be discovered in a judicial proceeding.
 
Wyoming: Public employers only.  Public employees may have access to their personnel files, including application information, performance ratings, and scholastic achievement

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Tips on purging your personnel files

Now is as good a time as any to clean out your employees' personnel files, and purge them of any information that could be used against you in court.  Here are some suggestions:

1. Only keep employees' last three performance appraisals on file.  If an employee's performance goes from good to bad over the course of several evaluations, you can rest assured that the employee will try to use those historic, good evaluations to challenge the legality of your discipline or discharge decisions. For similar reasons, eliminate achievement awards, honors, community service awards, commendations, and other insignificant items after one evaluation.

2. Keep I-9 forms separate from employees' personnel files for two reasons. First, the documents used to verify employment eligibility may reveal age and national origin information, and therefore, could be used by an employee to support a discrimination claim. Second, during an audit, the Department of Justice can require you to produce I-9 forms on three days' notice; you will spend a lot less time retrieving them if they are not mixed in with personnel file information.

3. Maintain a separate files for Family and Medical Leave Act requests, medical records, health insurance records, workers' compensation records, investigative consumer credit reports and discrimination complaints and investigation materials. Offer limited access to avoid violating employees' privacy rights and running afoul of state and federal privacy laws.


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