A common question employees ask is whether they have a right to a copy of their personnel files. Perhaps, the question is based on the right individuals have to their medical records. But the laws regarding these issues are different. While an employer is legally required to keep certain information regarding your employment, there is no obligation to give you access to that file. Here's what you need to know about your personnel file.
Your employer's obligations regarding personnel files
Your employer is required by law to maintain information regarding your wages, hours worked, reported workplace injuries and illnesses, tax withholdings and accrued vacation and other benefits. Your personnel file also typically contains your application, contact information and performance evaluations. That is information you have already seen. But there are also other documents that you probably have not seen.
Information in your personnel file that you have not seen
The typical personnel file will also include items you have not seen and probably are not intended to see, for example, references from previous employers, comments from customers or clients, written notes regarding coaching or discipline, or memos of supervisor's observations about an employee's behavior or productivity. The purpose of these documents can be seen when employment disputes arise, or an employee is demoted, transferred, or terminated. At that point, the personnel file can provide essential information helpful in resolving those disputes.
What role does the Privacy Act play?
The Privacy Act is a federal law that limits the kind of information that federal agencies, the military, and other government employers are allowed to maintain on their workers. But these limitations do not apply to private employers who have nearly complete discretion with regard to the kind of information they can collect and maintain on their employees.
General statutory laws regarding personnel files
While the majority of states currently have a law regulating personnel files, most of these laws do not control the content of the files. Instead, they address whether employees can obtain access to their personnel files and how they must go about doing so whether employees are entitled to copies of the documents in their personnel files, and how employees can contest and correct errors found in their files.
The laws in Alabama governing personnel files
Alabama does not have a specific law that grants a private employee's access to his or her personnel file. Employees of public school districts have a right to review and copy their files, as well as place written rebuttals in their personnel files. When a disciplinary document is placed in the personnel file of a public employee, the employer must give a copy to the employee within 10 days.
Obtaining access to your personnel file
Unless you are a public employee in the state of Alabama, you typically cannot see your personnel file unless it is related to a lawsuit you may have filed against your employer. Even in those cases, there will be a debate as to whether the information contained in the personnel file is relevant.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.