A Fired Employee's Rights to His Personnel File

State law dictates where and how you can access your personnel records.
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If you were fired, you just might want to review your personnel file to see what information your employer has kept on you. Or you might simply want to verify the accuracy of the records. Whether your employer must give you access to your personnel records is a technical matter that usually comes down to state law.

Federal Law

    In general, federal law does not require that your employer give you access to your personnel records. There is an exception under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In this case, as a former employee, you have a right to see records of any work-related injuries you sustained while employed and that are covered under OSHA guidelines.

State Law

    If state law says you have the right to access your personnel file, it may attach some conditions. This might include how frequently you can access the file, who can get copies, what type of records your employer can keep, permissible corrections that can be made to the file and third-party disclosure.


    Consult your state's labor department to determine what type of information you are entitled to access. You might be allowed to inspect and receive copies of records that relate to your performance or grievances. For example, former employees in California have a right to their employment application form; payroll authorization form; attendance records; performance reviews; vacation, layoff and leave of absence notices; wage garnishment notices; training and education notices and records; and notices of commendations, warnings, discipline and termination.

Time Frame and Fee

    Your employer must give you access to your personnel records by the state-mandated time frame. For example, an employer in California has 30 days from when the written request was made. There might be a cap on how many requests your employer must respond to, such as one request per former employee each year. The state might also allow your employer to charge you a reasonable fee to cover the cost of photocopies and providing you with the service.


    State law might exclude you from seeing everything in your personnel file. This may include letters of reference, unless you subpoena them through a lawsuit; records pertaining to the investigation of a possible criminal offense; records obtained prior to your employment; and documents prepared by an identifiable examination committee. In the case of a letter of reference, your employer may be able to conceal only the identity of the person who wrote it.

No Law

    If no state law exists on this matter and you need to access your personnel records, politely request them from your employer. You can start off with a verbal request. If your employer does not respond, follow up with a written request. If she ignores the letter or denies your request and the information is crucial to your situation, consult an attorney who can make the request on your behalf. An employer can face penalties for illegally denying you access to your personnel records.

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