In California, employees have a legal right to review and copy their personnel files. Part 1 of this article explained the reasons why employees should consider finding out what’s in their personnel files. Part 2 provides the nitty-gritty details about the California law that protects an employee’s right to review their own personnel file.
California Labor Code Section 1198.5 provides that, whether you are a current or former employee, you or your representative has the right to inspect and copy any records your employer maintains regarding your performance.
How to Get Your Personnel File
How do you do it? Request the records in writing. We suggest directing the request to your company’s human resources department and following-up via email. Employers have 30 days to provide you access to the file.
If you are currently employed, your employer must make the records available for inspection and, at your request, provide a copy of the records at your workplace, although you and the employer may agree on another location. Your employer does not have to permit you to review the records during your work hours, so you may have to take time off or come in during your off hours to inspect your file. If the employer requests that you review the records at a place other than where you usually work, however, you can’t lose pay because you have to travel to review the records.
Keeping track of what is contained in your personnel file can save you from unpleasant surprises down the road, when it’s too late to do anything about it!
If you are a former employee, the employer must make the records available at the location where the employer stores the records, unless you and the employer agree to a different location. A former employee may request to receive a copy by mail but must pay for the actual cost of postage. If the employer says you were terminated because of harassment or workplace violence, the employer can provide the records by mail or choose somewhere other than the workplace to may make the records available. But the location has to be within reasonable driving distance of your residence.
There are limitations on personnel file requests. The employer is only required to comply with one request per year by a former employee. The employer is not required to allow inspection or provide copies of records regarding investigation of a criminal offense, letters of reference, or records that were obtained prior to your employment. If you are covered by a union contract that includes a procedure for the inspection and copying of personnel records, you must comply with that procedure. You may be charged for copying the file, but the charge cannot exceed the actual cost.
As more employees learn about their right to look at their personnel files, employers will hopefully begin to treat requests as something routine, rather than looking with suspicion on employees who exercise the right to review their file.