California Expands Employees’ Access to Personnel Files

Contributed by Paul Jaquez

On September 30, 2012, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill (A.B.) 2674, which amplifies the rights of employees vis-à-vis their personnel files.  Beginning on January 1, 2013, employers in California will be required to permit employees – both current and former – the right to inspect and copy personnel files and records.  The law has two important modifications.  First, the law now imparts the same rights to former employees to access their personnel files as that currently maintained by current employees.  Second, while employees had previously been permitted to inspect their personnel files, employees had not been entitled to receive an actual copy of the file, but rather, only receive copies of the actual documents that the employee had signed.  Now, however, current and former employees, or their designated representatives, can receive a copy of the contents of their entire personnel file, provided they pay the cost of copying.

Employer Compliance

  • Employers must develop, and provide upon request, a written form which permits an employee to request access and/or copy their personnel file.
  • Employers must produce such a copy within 30 calendar days of the written request.
  • Failure to comply can result in the employers being fined $750 (plus attorneys’ fees if necessary, which is awarded to the employee.

Best Practices Going-Forward

  • Develop a form that complies with the written request for inspection and copying the personnel file.
  • Review that only the required documents are properly kept in personnel files.

  • Documents employees are entitled to include the following:
    • Application for employment;
    • Payroll authorization form;
    • Notices of commendation, warning, discipline, and/or termination;
    • Notices of layoff, leave of absence, and vacation;
    • Notices of wage attachment or garnishment;
    • Education and training notices and records;
    • Performance appraisals/reviews; and
    • Attendance records.
  • Documents employees are NOT entitled to include the following:
    • Records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense;
    • Letters of reference;
    • Ratings, reports, or records that were obtained prior to employment, prepared by identifiable examination committee members, or obtained in connection with a promotional examination.