Philadelphia Employment Law Attorney Discusses Your Right To Access Your Personnel File January 10, 2013
By Henry Yampolsky, Esquire
Few employees realize that there is a law that provides them the right to access and review their personnel file. According to Pennsylvania Access to Personnel Information Act, 43 P.S. §1321 et seq, once every year an employee can request to see the contents of his or her personnel file. As defined by the Act, “personnel file” includes:
- any application for employment, wage or salary information;
- notices of commendations, warning or discipline;
- authorization for a deduction or withholding of pay;
- fringe benefit information;
- leave records; and
- employment history with the employer, including salary information, job title, dates of changes, retirement record, attendance records and performance evaluations.
While knowing what is in your personnel file is important in general, it is especially so if you plan on departing your job or are about to face or had recently faced an adverse employment action, i.e., discipline, demotion and/or a write up.
Although, the Pennsylvania Access to Personnel Information Act gives you the right to examine your personnel file, this right is not absolute. The Act provides that the employer does not have to share with such things as reference letters, medical information and information that can infringe on confidentiality of other employees. Further, while you do have the right to examine your personnel file, you do not have the right to copy or remove any of its contents. The employer can also set boundaries with regard to time and place of the examination. Many employers will permit examination only in the presence of a member of the human resources team or a senior manager.
There are several suggestions to ensure that your examination is as effective as possible. First, make a request to examine your file in writing. Submitting a written request to an appropriate human resources official ensures that there is a paper trail of your request. It puts the employer on notice that you know your legal rights and allows them to respond to your request in the most effective and direct manner.
Second, if things at work are tense, try to distance yourself from the process. The law allows you to designate an individual who can review your file for you. A friend, a significant other or even an attorney can have the degree of emotional detachment necessary to have a clearer picture of what the file does or does not say. Moreover, should things ever escalate to litigation; you have a potential witness who can attest to the contents of your file.
Third, unless you are specifically permitted to do so, do not remove or copy any documents from your file. Most employers have strict policies against removal of any property belonging to them. Keep in mind that all times your personnel file is the property of your employer. Removing, copying or defacing any portion of it can subject you to severe employment sanctions, up to and including termination. Indeed, it can nullify any and all legal claims you may have against your employer.
Fourth, if you disagree with any contents of your file create a written statement which explains your position and ask your employer to amend it to the document you disagree with. Be sure to keep a copy of your statement for yourself. Finally, request to see your personnel file while you are still an employee. Remember, the law gives the right to see the file only to current employees. Thus, once you are terminated, or decide to leave your employment, the employer has absolutely no obligation to allow you to see your personnel file.
Employment Matters Require Experienced Employment Law Attorneys – Call Galfand Berger
If you are ever unsure about how to handle an employment situation, call Galfand Berger, LLP and speak with one of our employment attorneys. With offices in Center City Philadelphia, Bethlehem and Reading, Pennsylvania, we represent clients throughout the Philadelphia-Allentown-Harrisburg-South Jersey region, including Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, Bucks and Berks Counties in Pennsylvania and Burlington, Camden, Salem and Gloucester Counties in New Jersey. Call us at 1-800-222-USWA (8792) or contact us online.