What Action Can an Employee Take When Her Personnel File Is Violated?

Your company's violating the law if anyone can access your medical files.
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Over time, your personnel file at work can become a collection of secrets. Health issues. Disability problems. The background check from when you applied for a job. Your employer has an obligation to keep your files accurate and confidential, but sometimes employers screw up. There are steps you can take to fix things.

Reading the File

Many states give you the right to check the contents of your file for accuracy. The law may restrict you to viewing them during business hours, or on business property and require you do it when you're not on the clock. Some states allow your boss to charge you for any copies you make; Delaware, for example, says your boss can restrict you to taking notes, but no photocopies. Even if your state doesn't guarantee your right to view the file, you can still ask for permission.

Getting It Fixed

If you find incorrect information in your file -- about your health, finances, work performance or anything else -- ask your employer to remove or correct it. Collect any paper records or other evidence proving the error and present it to human resources. If you can't convince your employer to fix the file, some states, such as New Hampshire, Nevada and Connecticut, allow you to attach a written statement with your take on the facts to the file.

Secret's Out

Sometimes the problem isn't what's in the file, but who's read the file. It's good policy for an employer to restrict access so that only staffers who have to see the file do so. In some cases, keeping your information confidential is mandatory. Giving your medical file to someone with no right to see it, for instance, violates federal law. If people start gossiping about your personal data, talk to HR or your boss about company policy. Follow the steps for filing a complaint and see if they can fix things.

Taking Action

If your employer doesn't give you satisfaction, identify the best law to take action under. For example, if you have a disability that requires special accommodation at work, the Americans with Disabilities Act protects your privacy. If your employer doesn't keep your information confidential, you can file an ADA complaint with the federal government or sue. In other cases, state laws may protect your privacy. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act covers violations involving your medical information.

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