A former employee just called and asked for a copy of his personnel file. Do I need to mail him a copy?
Probably, but not necessarily for employees in certain states.
There is no federal law that guides how companies respond to this question, so we need to look at each state to see if there is a statutory right given to employees on this topic. In Minnesota we have such a law, which gives many current employees the right to review their personnel file every six months and former employees the right to obtain a copy once each year for as long as the personnel file is maintained. Neighboring states like Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa provide employees with similar rights to access personnel records, though each state has different procedural and substantive provisions relating to this right.
An employee’s right is not without restriction in Minnesota. First, the law only applies to companies with 20 or more employees. Second, current and former employees need to ask for the copy in writing to trigger the company’s obligation. Third, current employees can verbally ask, but then they only have the right to review the file outside working hours (while being supervised) and are not entitled to a copy, unless they submit a written request. Finally, the documents that are kept by companies in the personnel file often differ from those that Minnesota law requires employers to disclose to employees. It is worth reviewing what the law requires employers to disclose before disclosing what the company considers the personnel file, since the two are not always the same.
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