Can an Employer Deny a Copy of Your Employee File?

Federal law guarantees access to medical information held in your personnel file.
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The laws governing personnel files and how much access you have to yours depend on the state where you live. Employers can deny a copy of certain things in your employee file, if there is no state law, policy or ordinance that permits access to your personnel records. Personnel files are strictly confidential, and while you may have access to some things in your file – if you view the file at work – you might be restricted to having copies of specific records or be limited in access to your file. Some states permit employers to charge a reasonable fee for the copies of your employee file.

Personnel File Requirements

    Employers are required by federal law to keep a personnel file on each employee. The file must include wage, hour or salary information, tax withholding information, all benefit information and any accrued vacation, and workplace injuries and illnesses records. Employers also keep information that you have provided them, such as your resume or emergency contact info. Because employers must keep these records, they usually also include performance evaluations, previous employer references, disciplinary actions, awards or other information in the file. The government's privacy act limits what information a government agency can collect on employees, but private employers have little to no restrictions on what information they are allowed to keep in your file.

States with Laws

    As of September 2012, the states that have laws regarding access to personnel files were Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington. These states detail the type of access you have, how to request information and the records the employer can copy for you. States not on this list might have a local ordinance or state administrative regulation that details what, if any, access you have to your personnel record and the copies to which you might be entitled.

Accessing Files

    Most state laws provide access to everything in your file on which you have placed your signature, while some states only permit access to employee files if you are engaged in a lawsuit with your employer or a former employer. Employers do not have to provide access to disciplinary actions, reference letters, criminal investigations or information that violates the privacy of others. If your state has personnel records access laws, you might need to submit your request in writing, or only access the file in the presence of a supervisor or human resource personnel.

Medical Records Access

    Federal safety and health laws allow employees or their designated representative complete access to all toxic or hazardous substance exposure and medical records kept by the employer on your behalf. Access as defined by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Standards refers to review and making copies of all exposure and medical records. Employers must comply with requests for this information, but must also satisfy the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which limits your medical information access to specific persons, such as your doctor or his staff.

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