Your personnel file at work includes information on your wages and hours, workplace injuries and illnesses, and tax withholding, as well as records of accrued vacation and other benefits. Your file will usually contain little information you did not know or provide to your employer in the first place.
A federal law, the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. § 552a), limits the type of information that federal agencies, the military, and other government employers may keep on their workers. While, some employee personnel files can include: references from previous employers, comments from customers or clients, employee reprimands, job performance evaluations, or memos of management's observations about an employee's behavior or productivity. When employment disputes develop, or an employee is demoted, transferred, or fired, the innards of his or her personnel file often provide essential information--often unknown to the employee--about the whys and wherefores. On the other hand, private employers have can collect a variety of information in an employee personnel file.
Most states have laws controlling:
1. • whether and how employees and former employees can get access to their personnel files
2. • whether employees are entitled to copies of the information in them, and
3. • how employees can contest and correct erroneous information in their files.
In many states, you have the right to see the contents of your personnel file--or at least some of the documents in it--without filing a lawsuit. While in other states, the only way you get to see those files is while collecting evidence after filing a lawsuit against the employer or former employer. And even then, you might be in for a legal battle over what portions of the files are relevant to the case. For more information on your state: click here.
All requests to see an employee personnel file should be made to the employer or former employer in writing and should be sent by mail which provides tracking or proof of delivery. Only those people with a proven need to know the contents of your personnel file are supposed to have access to it. For example, your employer cannot tell your coworkers the results of a drug screening test you were required to take. Unfortunately, the truth is that employers frequently give out information about their employees to other people: other employers, unions, police investigators, creditors, insurance agents.