Few employees realize that there is a law that provides them the right to access and
review their personnel file. According to Pennsylvania Access to Personnel Information Act, 43 P.S.
§1321 et seq, once every year an employee can request to see the contents of his or
her personnel file. As defined by the Act, “personnel file” includes:
any application for employment, wage or salary information;
commendations, warning or discipline;
authorization for a deduction or withholding of
fringe benefit information;
leave records; and
employment history with
the employer, including salary information, job title, dates of changes, retirement record,
attendance records and performance evaluations.
While knowing what is in your personnel
file is important in general, it is especially so if you plan on departing your job or are about to
face or had recently faced an adverse employment action, i.e., discipline, demotion and/or a write
Although, the Pennsylvania Access to Personnel Information Act gives you the right to
examine your personnel file, this right is not absolute. The Act provides that the employer does
not have to share with such things as reference letters, medical information and information that
can infringe on confidentiality of other employees. Further, while you do have the right to examine
your personnel file, you do not have the right to copy or remove any of its contents. The employer
can also set boundaries with regard to time and place of the examination. Many employers will
permit examination only in the presence of a member of the human resources team or a senior
There are several suggestions to ensure that your examination is as effective as
possible. First, make a request to examine your file in writing. Submitting a written request to
an appropriate human resources official ensures that there is a paper trail of your request. It
puts the employer on notice that you know your legal rights and allows them to respond to your
request in the most effective and direct manner.
Second, if things at work are tense, try to
distance yourself from the process. The law allows you to designate an individual who can review
your file for you. A friend, a significant other or even an attorney can have the degree of
emotional detachment necessary to have a clearer picture of what the file does or does not say.
Moreover, should things ever escalate to litigation; you have a potential witness who can attest to
the contents of your file.
Third, unless you are specifically permitted to do so, do not
remove or copy any documents from your file. Most employers have strict policies against removal of
any property belonging to them. Keep in mind that all times your personnel file is the property of
your employer. Removing, copying or defacing any portion of it can subject you to severe employment
sanctions, up to and including termination. Indeed, it can nullify any and all legal claims you
may have against your employer.
Fourth, if you disagree with any contents of your file create
a written statement which explains your position and ask your employer to amend it to the document
you disagree with. Be sure to keep a copy of your statement for yourself. Finally, request to see
your personnel file while you are still an employee. Remember, the law gives the right to see the
file only to current employees. Thus, once you are terminated, or decide to leave your
employment, the employer has absolutely no obligation to allow you to see
your personnel file.
If you are ever unsure about how to handle an
employment situation, call Galfand Berger, LLP
and speak with one of our employment
attorneys. With offices in Center City Philadelphia, Bethlehem and
Reading, Pennsylvania, as well as Burlington, New Jersey, we
represent clients throughout the Philadelphia-Allentown-Harrisburg-South Jersey
region, including Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, Bucks
and Berks Counties in Pennsylvania
and Burlington, Camden, Salem and Gloucester
Counties in New Jersey. Call us at
1-800-222-USWA (8792) or contact us online at
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