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July 23, 2015 in HR, Employee Management, Compliance

How to Organize Employee Personnel Files

Let’s say tomorrow, one of your employees asks to see his or her personnel file. Do you know today whether you would answer “yes” or “no” to this request? Does the employee have a legal right to see the file? What information — if any — can you rightfully keep from him or her? Can the employee take the file from your offices? You need answers to these questions. Without them, you’ll fumble with your pen and stumble with your words while the employee patiently awaits an answer.

How to Organize Personnel Files

How to Organize Employee Personnel Files

What to Do: Find out how your state regulates access to personnel files. Then, organize employee files and allow access to records according to these guidelines:

  • Limit information in files to material relevant to legitimate personnel and business decisions.
  • Tell employees and applicants how their personnel records will be used.
  • Give employees access to their files.
  • Require employees to submit signed request forms to inspect files.
  • Allow employees to correct inaccurate information.
  • Have employees sign statements that they have reviewed their records. Statements include: time and date of the review, a list of copied documents, a summary of alterations made to the file.
  • Require employee consent before releasing information to third parties.
  • Limit released information to factual statements. Example: Jack was employed as a machinist at XYZ Company from January of 2008 to June of 2010.

How to Organize Personnel Files

Most state “Right-to-Know” laws require employers to provide employees with access to their personnel records. As society becomes increasingly concerned about the number of files, reports, records, tapes, and documents describing the activities of individual citizens, it’s common for employees to ask to see their work-related files.

Employers need to understand how to properly organize employee personnel files, and what information their employees are entitled to. 

What Records Are Employers Not Required to Disclose?

Right-to-know laws give employees the right to see personnel records. But these laws also prohibit employee access to certain kinds of information.

Employers are not required to disclose information regarding:

    • Criminal proceedings. Commonly, information relevant to criminal proceedings is strictly protected from review by workers. Some states deny the review of information that is included in any investigation of wrong-doing. Some states allow employers to deny workers information pertinent to civil, criminal, or grievance procedures.
    • Reference letters. Writers of reference letters must know their remarks remain confidential. That’s why many statutes bar employee access to these letters. Similarly, some statutes prohibit an employee from seeing evaluations co-workers have made concerning his or her performance.
    • Medical conditions. Some states give employees a right to see medical files. Other states limit access. In some states, employers can refuse to release medical information if they believe such knowledge would harm the employee. In such an instance, employers can release the medical information to the employee’s physician.

A few states do not limit privacy protection to reference letters or peer evaluations. Their statutes broadly protect “confidential information” from review.

When Can Employees See Their Personnel Files?

Some states allow employees to inspect their files once or twice a year. But most laws don’t spell out how often employees can see their records. Generally, these statutes require that employees have “reasonable access” to records. Some states require that the inspection of a file occur during an employee’s free time.

Can Employees Take Personnel Files Out of the Office?

There is no law that states an employee may take their personnel files out of the office. The statutes of several states expressly affirm the employer’s right to keep personnel records on the employer’s property.

Generally, an employee’s right to see a file includes the right to copy documents in the file.

If you are a New York-based employer having trouble organizing your employee personnel files, or having issues complying with right-to-know laws, a New York-based HR and Payroll company like Excelfoce may be able to help. Contact us today to see how we are already helping countless businesses stay in compliance with federal and state laws. New call-to-action

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