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Personnel Files

This page addresses the following topics:

1. Am I entitled to have a copy or at least see my personnel file?

2. Personal and personnel files

1. Am I entitled to have a copy or at least see my personnel file?

An employee's personnel files, including hiring or firing information, salary information, letters to clients, and internal memoranda are the property of the company. You do not have the right to take them with you when you go. Except in Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode, Island, Washington and Wisconsin, you do not have the legal right to look at the information in your file. Your employer may have a policy allowing access or may honor a request to review the file. Be persistent in your request to copy your file, but realize that your employer may be under no legal obligation to allow you to do so.

2. Personal and personnel files

Make sure you have all documents regarding your employment -- hiring and firing, pension and insurance benefits, employer-sponsored savings plans, and any other records relating to your tenure with the company such as training program certificates, evaluations, awards, and letters of commendation. Some of the latter can be put to good use when you apply for a new job. Some documents may also be used in support of a claim if you decide to protest your termination.

If you think you have a good case against your employer, make a list of all documents that may help prove your case. Never take documents or papers that don't belong to you. Never even attempt to access information, either on computer or in company files, that you have no right to know. Anything that is personal to you, such as letters of praise or thanks that were sent to you, can be removed. However, anything related to the company or the operation of the company and its business should not be taken without permission.

While it may be tempting to take confidential company records or access computer files without authorization, this is a big mistake for a number of reasons. First of all, it may be illegal and you might end up facing criminal charges or civil claims as well as trying to fight your termination. Second, it may give the company an excuse to fire you where none existed before. Even if you can prove that you were illegally fired, your employer can use your misconduct to severely limit your ability to recover money or obtain re-employment in a lawsuit. Finally, if you signed a so-called "confidentiality agreement" at the time you were hired, taking confidential documents could subject you to civil action for breach of contract.

An employee's personnel files, including hiring or firing information, salary information, letters to clients, and internal memoranda are the property of the company. You do not have the right to take them with you when you go. Except in Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin, you do not have the legal right to look at the information in your file. Your employer may have a policy allowing access or may honor a request to review the file. Be persistent in your request to copy your file, but realize that your employer may be under no legal obligation to allow you to do so.


This is a selection from Job Rights and Survival Strategies by Paul H. Tobias and Susan Sauter.