California Labor Code section 1198.5 provides that current and former employees have the right to inspect or receive a copy of their own personnel file. The personnel file may include information an employer keeps about its employee’s qualifications for employment, promotion, compensation, termination or discipline. Under California Labor Code Section 432, employers are also required to give an employee or job applicant, upon request, a copy of any instrument that the employee or applicant has signed relating to the obtaining or holding of employment. Examples of these often include: job applications and other pre-hire paperwork, offer letters, performance evaluations, performance warnings, nondisclosure agreements, and stock awards. However, employees are not generally entitled to copies of the employer’s investigation of a possible criminal offense or letters of reference.
Inspections must be allowed at reasonable times and intervals, but not later than 30 calendar days from the date the employer receives a written request from the employee or the employee’s representative. Upon a written request from a current or former employee, or a representative, the employer must provide a copy of the personnel records, at a charge not to exceed the actual cost of reproduction. An employer is only required to comply with one request per year by a former employee to inspect or receive a copy of his or her personnel records. Employers are required to keep personnel records for three years after termination of employment.
If an employer fails to permit a current employee, former employee, or representative to inspect or copy personnel records within the times specified, or times agreed to by mutual agreement, then the current employee, former employee, or the Labor Commissioner may recover a penalty of $750.00 from the employer. A current or former employee may also bring an action to obtain compliance with the statute, and may recover costs and reasonable attorney’s fees in such an action through the court process.
Some employees are worried that requesting a copy of the personnel file will jeopardize the employment relationship. Because the law applies to former employees, as well as current employees, an individual may request a copy of his or her personnel file after the employment relationship has ended. At that time, the employee may simply write or email the individual at the company who is responsible for maintaining personnel records to advise that the employee is requesting that the employer provide a copy of his or her entire personnel file within 30 days. The employee should also provide the employer with the employee’s current address where the records may be sent.
An employee who believes he or she has been wrongfully terminated should speak with an attorney. Having the personnel file will assist the attorney in evaluating the employee’s case by providing important information about the employee’s dates of employment, compensation, performance, termination, commendations and discipline.