By John V. Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com
In our legal practice, many current and former employees in Virginia often ask us whether they have the right to obtain a copy of their personnel file or at least have the ability to request and review it. Each state has their own laws and regulations with respect to this issue for private sector employees. Furthermore, government employee (federal, state, county, municipal) requests are governed by different federal, state, county, or city laws and regulations.
Access to Employment Files Vary by State Law
Private sector employees (those employed by companies; the majority of employees) are generally not entitled to a copy of their personnel file in most jurisdictions. Virginia has not yet passed a law requiring private sector employers to provide copies of an employee’s personnel file upon request or in requiring employee access to review and inspect their files. Other states, such as California and Massachusetts, however, have passed laws giving private sector employees required access to their personnel files. The general national trend seems to be moving towards passing laws and regulations that require employers to provide current and former employees access to their personnel files.
Public, Union and Federal Employees Have Additional Rights to their Personnel Files
Private sector employees belonging to unions may have additional rights to review or obtain a copy of their personnel files, depending on collective bargaining agreements negotiated between their union and an employer. Federal employees generally have the right to obtain a copy of their personnel files through the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a. Virginia public sector (State or County) employees have the right to review their personnel files under Va. Code 2.2-3705.1 and Va. Code 2.2-3705.5. In addition, if a personnel matter goes to court, an employee will typically be able to obtain a copy of his or her personnel file through discovery procedures.
General Tips for Virginia Employees and Employers
If employees do not have a statutory or other right to obtain a copy of their personnel file, it is still possible for the employee to ask human resources for a copy of an employee’s file. Even though employers may not have a formal policy on personnel files, human resources will often grant an employee’s request to review his or her personnel file unless they have a reason not to do so.
We also advise Virginia employers to consider allowing employees, under certain conditions, with the ability to review their personnel file even if it is not required. This often has a positive effect on workplace morale and clearly helps to limit suspicion in the company workplace. Such a policy also provides the employer the ability to clearly document that an employee was put on notice where disciplinary or performance actions have been taken. In addition, an employer should certainly have a policy in place that is consistently applied to all employees.
Our firm represents Virginia employees regarding employment matters and requests for information from personnel files. We can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070. Our Facebook page can be found at Berry & Berry Facebook Page.