In California, most employees have a right to a copy of their personnel file. But what is a personnel file? In California, a personnel file may include any documents that are used to determine an employee’s qualifications for employment, promotion, additional compensation, termination, disciplinary action, or that pertain to any grievance concerning the employee. Employers cannot hide important employment documents simply by avoiding the label “personnel file” or scattering them throughout several different files.
A personnel file, however, does not include records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense, letters of reference, or records that are obtained prior to the employee’s employment, connected to a promotional exam, or prepared by identifiable exam committee members.
California employees are also entitled to copies of any documents that bear the employee’s signature and relate to obtaining or holding employment. This typically includes job applications, offer letters, performance evaluations, and termination paperwork.
Until recently, California employees only had a right to “inspect” the personnel file, but now both current and former employees have the right to a complete copy, provided they pay for postage. Employers are required to comply with a personnel file request within 30 days, and to maintain employee personnel files for three years.