All Human Resource departments keep extensive records. The law requires HR to keep many of them for certain time periods. Employees are well aware that these records exist (and some are under the impression that the file follows them from company to company, which is not true).
Because employees know these records exist, they will want to view them from time to time to see what the file contains.
When deciding how to provide employee (and former employee access) keep in mind any laws that apply to your business. Many states have laws that require a company to make specific parts of the file available to current and former employees. Check with your employment attorney to ensure that your policy is in compliance with all laws.
Federal law, for instance, requires that records related to the Americans with Disabilities Act are kept separate from personnel records. If your company is subject to HIPAA, make sure your medical record keeping is in compliance with that as well.
You may have a great deal of leeway in what you allow employees to see in their file. But, keep in mind that even if you determine that an employee can't have access to certain information, such as reference checks, that in the case of a lawsuit that information is discoverable.
Therefore, instruct your staff to record things accurately and follow the law at all times. Employee records are not the place for inside jokes or snide comments. These do not go over well in a court of law.
As a general rule, having one gatekeeper to the records ensures that procedures are followed and consistent. You don't want one HR manager allowing people to take their records back to their desks while another refuses access at all.
Requiring everyone to go through a single source helps keep things consistent and legal. Laws regarding records and record retention and access are tricky. Make sure that you stay up to date.
The policy below is a good start for your business, but keep in mind that your state and local laws may vary.
Sample Employee Records Access Policy
All employees, former employees, and representatives of employees may view certain contents of their personnel file with advance notice to Human Resources staff. Documents that relate to the employee's qualifications for hire such as the application, promotion, disciplinary action, and transfer may be viewed. Additionally, the employee may review policy sign off forms and training records.
Documents that the employee may not review include references or reference checks, records of any investigation undertaken by management, medical records, documents related to a judicial proceeding, any document that would violate the confidentiality of another employee, and documents used for employee planning.
An employee who wants to review the allowable contents of their personnel file should contact Human Resources with 24 hours notice (weekends excluded). Former employees, or people unknown to the Human Resources staff, must present identification and/or proof of permission to access the personnel file.
Employees must review their personnel files in the presence of a Human Resources staff person.
Employees may not remove from the office any part of the personnel file.
The employee may request photocopies of the file or portions of the file. Within reason, the Human Resources staff person will provide photocopies. For extensive copying, the employee will need to pay for the photocopies.
If the employee is unhappy with a document in his or her personnel file, in the presence of the Human Resources staff person, the employee may write an explanation or clarification and attach it to the disputed document. Under no circumstances will HR staff or the employee alter the actual document.
The employee may also ask to have a document removed from the personnel file. If the Human Resources staff person agrees, the document may be removed. If the Human Resources staff person disagrees, the matter may be appealed in the manner prescribed in the company Open Door Policy.
Hopefully, you have found this policy useful as you develop your own personnel file access policy for your organization. Please customize the policy to fit the needs and culture of your organization.