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Talking About What Matters to Employees

What’s in Your Personnel File? – Part 1

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A personnel file can serve as the road map to a person’s employment.  It often contains the initial employment application, performance evaluations over the years, commendations the employee has received, as well as disciplinary records or other written documentation critical of the employee’s performance.  Supervisors and managers often read through personnel files when it comes time to make critical decisions about an employee’s career.  Raises, bonuses, even continued employment often ride on what can be found inside the file.  Yet most employees have never even seen the full contents of the important file bearing their name.

If you are an employee (and most of us are), here are some prime examples of times when you might do well to review your personnel file –

  • When you are headed into an interview about a potential promotion.  The manager who is going to interview you is certainly going to have a look at your personnel file.  Make an appointment with HR to have a look at it yourself to make sure the information in the file accurately reflects your work history and performance.
  • When you have filed a worker’s compensation claim, requested medical leave or asked for reasonable workplace accommodations for a disability.  In each of these instances, you may have provided medical information in support of your request.  Reviewing your personnel file will help you make sure that your employer is not keeping your private medical information in the same file with the rest of your personnel records.  (A number of laws require medical records to be kept in a separate file.)
  • When your boss seems to have it out for you.  It is rare, but we’ve come across more than a few cases where there is evidence that managers have papered personnel files with fake disciplinary write-ups.  If a manager is treating you unfairly in the workplace, make sure she or he is not creating a secret record to use to terminate you.
  • When you have been terminated.  Even after you have been terminated, you can review your file.  In fact, your employer must keep your personnel records for at least three years following your termination.

In California, employees have a legal right to review and copy their personnel files.  Employees and employers have a stake in fair workplace practices.  Human resources professionals and managers should view employee requests to review their personnel files as a chance to fulfill the promise of their open door policies.

Part 1 of this article explained the reasons why employees should consider finding out what’s in their personnel files.  Stay tuned for Part 2 for the nitty-gritty details about the California law that protects an employee’s right to review their own personnel file.


One Response to “What’s in Your Personnel File? – Part 1”

  1. Hello. This point can certainly cause some concern: “…there is evidence that managers have papered personnel files with fake disciplinary write-ups.”

    My question involves the process in which one can disprove the fake allegations, such as, do the write-ups by an unscrupulous supervisor have to be signed by the employee? If not, wow, anything can be placed in a personnel file.

    Thank you and I look forward to your response.


  1. What’s in Your Personnel File? – Part 2 | The Employee Matters - [...] California, employees have a legal right to review and copy their personnel files.  Part 1 of this article explained…

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