Plaintiff Employment Law: Requesting Your Personnel File

California employment law provides an important right to all employees – the right to inspect and receive a copy of your personnel records or any grievance that concerns you. The request must be in writing, and the employer has 30 days to produce records.

Reasons to Request Your Personnel File

There are several reasons why you may want to request your personnel file. First, if you have been subjected to discrimination, retaliation or harassment, it is essential to understand what information is in your file. In many cases, a discriminatory manager will attempt to “document” performance issues in order to justify the actions that are being taken against you (demotion, termination, promotion denial, etc.). Understanding what is in your file allows you to respond appropriately.

Second, even if things are going well, there are benefits to reviewing your personnel file. For instance, you may have received awards or other recognition that are not included in your file. As another example, you may have completed the necessary paperwork to take a leave of absence, but the paperwork is not included in your file. In both cases, it is easier to fix the issue before a problem arises.

Legal Requirements

Here are the general requirements under California law:

  • Every current and former employee, or his or her representative, has “the right to inspect and receive a copy of the personnel records that the employer maintains relating to the employee’s performance or to any grievance concerning the employee.”
  • The request must be written, using either a writing you prepare or the employer’s form.
  • The employer has 30 calendar days after receipt of the request to allow inspection of the records or produce a copy of them. If you and the employer agree, this may be extended to 35 calendar days.
  • The employer may not charge more than “the actual cost of reproduction” and “actual postal expenses.”
  • The employer must retain your records for at least 3 years after termination of your employment.
  • The employer is only required to respond to one request per year.
  • Prior to producing the records, “the employer may redact the name of any nonsupervisory employee contained therein.”
  • The employer is not required to produce: (1) records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense; (2) letters of reference; and (3) ratings, reports or records that were obtained prior to your employment, prepared by identifiable examination committee members and obtained in connection with a promotional examination.
  • If the employer does not produce your file within the above time limits, you or the Labor Commissioner may recover a penalty of $750. You may also bring an action for injunctive relief and recover costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.
  • The above requirements do not apply if you have filed a personnel-related lawsuit against your employer.

At Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer, we have a team of experienced employment lawyers ready to help. If you have been the victim of discrimination, retaliation or harassment, please contact us today for a free consultation. If you decide to retain our law firm, we will handle your matter on a contingency basis.

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