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Talking About What Matters to Employees
Currently Browsing: Advocating for Yourself

What’s in Your Personnel File? – Part 2

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 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. 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...

What’s in Your Personnel File? – Part 1

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...

Decipher Your Paystub

California has very stringent laws regarding when and how employees must be paid. To make sure the laws aren’t ignored, employers are required to provide lots of information on paystubs. But do you really understand all the information you are receiving?

Don’t Press That Button!

Understandably, you may want to record that conversation your boss or HR is about to have with you. DON’T! Not without their express (and recorded) consent. Unless you are expecting to tape record someone admitting or committing extortion, kidnapping or physical violence against a person, you will be the one on the wrong side of the law. California is one of 12 states in which recording an otherwise confidential conversation, without the express permission of the other person(s), is a crime – specifically, a misdemeanor. It can subject you to as much as a year in jail and/or a $2500 fine. Equally important, the tape recording may not be admissible in court in any case you may bring in the future. So, if you are in California, shut off those iPhones and Droids during confidential conversations.  Instead, take notes during the meeting or consider taking a few minutes right after the conversation to write down everything that you can recall about the conversation, including what each person said. Even if you are upset by the conversation, take a deep breath and write as soon as possible. Depending on the circumstances (such as whether you continue to be employed after the conversation), you may want to send an email to your boss or HR confirming what was said. And always keep your emails and other written communications polite and to the point....

Don’t Be a Social Media Weiner

Anthony Weiner, the former Congressman and current candidate for New York Mayor, isn’t the first person to tweet his way out of a job.  For the last few years, stories have been circulating about lots of people who were marched off the job after exposing something through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or the like.  Take the case of the admissions officer at the University of Pennsylvania who was fired after her bosses discovered that she shared – and mocked – excerpts from student essays on her “private” Facebook page.  Some accounts of this phenomenon read like a “who’s who” of people terminated on account of social media blunders and gaffes. Now there are studies confirming the perils of posting on social media sites for job seekers.  According to a 2007 survey by a privacy think tank, 35% of managers use Google to do online background checks of potential employees, and 23% look people up on social media sites.  These social media background checks can have devastating results.  According to a study by On Device Research, 1 in 10 young job seekers believe they have lost a job opportunity due to their social media profiles. Plenty of employers also don’t take kindly to criticism.  Witness the school bus driver in metropolitan Atlanta who was terminated following a Facebook post in which he claimed that students in need were not being provided with free lunches.  Things turned out somewhat better for the three co-workers who were fired after a Facebook gripe session.  The National Labor Relations Board decided that the company was wrong to fire them because the three were doing more than talking trash about the company and the manager – they were working together to try to change their work environment.  That kind of “concerted activity” is protected under federal law. Employees should be careful about assuming that their on-line comments will be protected by law.  Ultimately, the question may have to be answered by a judge – and that only happens after you’ve been fired. So, the next time you thinking about posting a snarky comment about a colleague on your Facebook page, or sending a tweet about something stupid your manager just said in a meeting, stop and ask yourself, “is this something that I’d like my boss to read?”  If the answer is no, do yourself (and your career) a favor.  Back away from the keyboard and save your humor for another time – preferably in person with a living, breathing friend instead of the virtual friends whose...

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