Your employee file

Guard yourself by knowing the laws that protect you

Companies keep a file on each employee. This personnel file provides a detailed look at the employee's history with the company. There is information the company is required to keep, information the company cannot keep and laws governing access to the file.

The company is required by law to keep certain information on file. According to "Every Employee's Guide to the Law," by Lewin G. Joel III, your company must keep the following records:
  • Payroll.
  • Time sheets.
  • Tax information.
  • Occupational injury or illness
  • Safety.
  • Worker's compensation.
  • Health insurance and retirement plan participation.
Companies will frequently keep:
  • Employment applications.
  • Resumes.
  • Letters of reference.
  • Salary history.
  • Vacation and attendance records.
  • Performance appraisals.
  • Test results.
  • Disciplinary notices,
  • Commendations.
The information in their file, according to Joel, should be restricted to information about your job, how you perform your job and your ability to perform your job. It should not include personal information, except if it directly relates to your position.

Employers can't keep certain information in your personnel file, such as medical information. Any necessary medical information should be stored separately and its access limited to designated officials only, according to the "The Americans with Disabilities Act: A Primer for Small Business," from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The company can only disclose medical information about you in cases where it is absolutely necessary, such as to supervisors if special accommodations need to be made for the employee and to emergency personnel when treatment or assistance is required.

According to nolo. com, the people that have access to your personnel file differs from state to state. Some states consider the file the employer's property, so your access depends on the company. Other states provide employees fairly open access to their employment records.

Most states allow the employer to protect the integrity of the file. This means that you can be prevented from removing or possibly even copying the file. Some states may require you have a witness observe your handling of the file.

As for what you can view, most states define personnel records broadly, meaning a document that relates to your employment is a personnel record, even if it's not in your personnel file. However, you probably won't be able to see records relating to management planning, criminal investigations or civil cases.

You may even be able to see your file from a former employer, although some states have time limits, so consult an employment attorney or the company's human resources department for assistance.

According to "Every Employee's Guide to the Law," many states allow you to request inaccurate or dated information be removed from your file, or insert your own explanation to accompany the file.

For specific laws governing your state, consult the Individual Employment Rights series (Vol. 9) of the Bureau of National Affairs Labor Relations Reporter, which can be found in most law libraries. If you have any questions as to your legal rights, consult an attorney.

Sources: nolo. com/lawcenter; "Every Employee's Guide to the Law," by Lewin G. Joel III; "The Americans with Disabilities Act: A Primer for Small Business," from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.


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