Do I Have to Provide Access to Personnel Files?

by Curtis Graves, Esq., SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Arizona,  Bulletin,  Colorado,  Compliance and Risk Management,  HR Expertise and Support,  Utah

Q: I have an employee with a rich disciplinary history who insists on seeing her personnel file. Do I have to show it to her? I can’t imagine that she wants to see it for any purpose that’s going to be helpful to the company.

A: Employee access to personnel files is governed by state law, and MSEC has ready access to whatever state’s law you need to know about. As examples:

Colorado just passed a law allowing an employee of a private employer the right to inspect his or her personnel files. The law is effective January 1, 2017 and does not apply to public employers (which are covered under the Colorado Open Records Act) or to financial institutions.

The law defines personnel file as personnel records of an employee, “in the manner maintained by the employer and using reasonable efforts by the employer to collect,” that are used or have been used for a host of purposes, including employment, promotion, additional compensation, and discipline or termination. The statute also defines what is not a “personnel file.” Upon the request of an employee, and at least annually, an employer must permit that employee to inspect and obtain a copy of any part of his or her own personnel file or files at the employer’s office at a time convenient to both employer and employee.

Arizona’s law only pertains to public employers, although private employers should abide by any handbook policy or collective bargaining agreement. Arizona’s public employees may access their official personnel file, which must include certain items, such as:

The job application or résumé related to the employee’s current position;
Performance appraisals;
Certain forms;
Commendation letters; and
Disciplinary action taken by the employer.
In Utah, the state and its political subdivisions must allow employees to access and copy their personnel records. (There is no corresponding state law for private employers.) The request should be made in writing and the employee should pay the copying fee.

Certain personnel records are exempt from disclosure. For instance, employers are not required to disclose:

Confidential government records;
Records subject to confidentiality agreements (unless the persons entering the confidentiality agreement agree the information may be disclosed under these circumstances); and
Records of measures taken by state or local governments to protect the public.
The above are only summaries, so again, if you’re after faced with this issue, just give us a call.

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About the author
Curtis Graves, Esq., SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Curtis is an employment law attorney and Employers Council's Information Resource Manager. Curtis specializes in legal issues surrounding drug use by employees, unemployment compensation, and corporate training. He regularly trains human resources professionals, managers, supervisors, and employees in legal issues involved with drugs, harassment, unemployment compensation, performance documentation, and civil rights. Curtis regularly represents members in administrative proceedings before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.