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Am I Legally Entitled to See My Personnel File?

Files on a computerAccess to your personnel files

“This is going on your permanent record.”

These might have been words most people dreaded hearing when they were in school, but the phrase can be equally as intimidating in the workplace. The good news is you have more rights as a working adult than you did as a student and you are guaranteed certain protections in the workplace.

But do these protections guarantee the right to see your personnel file?

It depends.

In most cases, you won’t give thought to your personnel file until something happens. You might not receive the raise you were hoping to get or be passed up for a promotion and you’re wondering if something in your file affected the advancement you were expecting.

Your file might also come to mind when you consider a search for a new job or consider whether you signed certain human resources documents when you were hired.

Regardless of the reason, many employees have a need or desire to access their personnel files at some point. They might even want to make copies of something contained with their file or discuss an issue that pertains to their file.

Do You Have Right to See Your Personnel File?

Whether or not you’ll be able to gain access to your file depends on a few things.

There is no federal law mandating access to an employee’s file if they work in the private sector. About a third of states grant some access, but this is not the case in New York.

Despite no official protection guaranteeing access to a personnel file in New York, you might still be able to view your file.

Before attempting to do so, consider the following:

Your employer’s policy regarding personnel files.
Some employers have a policy that allows access to personnel files, so all you’ll need to do is ask. You might need to fill out a form or provide notice to your HR department, but if the company’s policy is to share personnel files with employees, they’ll need to follow through if you ask.

Your union agreement might guarantee access.
If you are part of an employee union, the collective bargaining agreement might entitle you to access to your personnel file. You can speak to your union representative to determine whether or not any policies are in place.

You might be able to see your file if you just ask.
Even if there are no laws or policies in place that grant access to your file, some employers are happy to share it with you anyway. It doesn’t hurt to ask, but it’s probably a good idea to put your request in writing with a brief explanation of why you wish to see your file. Submit your written request via email so there is proof it was sent and received.

Should you be granted access to your file, make sure you ask about any policies for handling the information. What’s in your personnel file is about you, but it’s the property of your employer and you need permission to make copies, take notes, or snap a photo.

What If You Can’t See Your Employment Personnel File?

If you are having issues at work that involve some sort of illegal conduct on the part of your employer and you take legal action, you may have the ability to obtain documents in your file through a process called discovery. The contents of your file could be revealed during the discovery process.

Likewise, if you see your file and determine something is incorrect and your employer refuses to correct it, or something contained in your file violates any laws, you have a right to speak to an attorney.

Keep in mind, any medical information you’ve shared with your employer should not be part of your personnel file. Medical information is to be kept in a separate file. If you find any health or medical records in your personnel file, you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible.

For more information on how medical information must be handled in the workplace, check out this information from Workplace Fairness.

Your personnel file might contain valuable information that can have a bearing on your current and future employment situations. If you are concerned about the contents of your personnel file and you have not been granted access to review the file, or if your review reveals problems, it’s important to speak to an attorney. For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C.

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