People Often Wonder Can I Look at My Own Personnel File?

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Many people wonder, “Can I look at my own personnel file and if so, can I copy my personnel file?” Depending on the state you live in and your employer’s policies, being able to look at your personnel file may be possible. Your personnel file begins with the company’s search for you and your skills. The job description is the first document likely to be present in the file. This is an important document for you to be able to look at and copy. You need to know what your duties are and how you fit into your department and company. Your job may change and your duties should be added to your personnel file, or you may have a dispute regarding your duties which can be solved by referencing your job description.

File Contents

Your _application_n, _resum_e and _reference_s are typically added next. Your forms relating to payroll and payment are included, such as your W-4 and I-9, for their financial and governmental importance. The type of orientation and training you received on the job may be included and of interest to you later. Your benefit information such as health insurance, life insurance beneficiary, disability coverage, and retirement benefits records can be checked for accuracy. Reviews of your performance, salary increases and disciplinary actions should exist in the file, as well. There may be some medical records related to injuries or medical accommodations required for you to do your job effectively.

What’s In it For Both of You

Access to the file helps the employee and employer make sure information is correct and updated. Allowing access fosters a feeling of good will and allays misgivings or suspicions about what’s in the file. Transparency keeps both parties honest and assured there’s nothing illegal or inadvised. Employers can advise employees about when and how to view the file and under what conditions. The employee can respectfully request access and adhere to the employer’s conditions.

State Laws

State laws govern and include, but may not be limited to the following conditions:

  1. Whether private employers are affected by the law.
  2. If the employee is required to make an appointment to see the file.
  3. How information is limited during access.
  4. What type of information can be copied.
  5. Whether the employer requires a manager to be present during access.
  6. If there is a procedure in place to settle disputes.
  7. The amount of time a file is kept.

State Examples

In California, the law states that you may access your file without advance notice and without an employer representative being present, but you may not copy the file. On the opposite coast in New York state, there are no laws regarding private employers and access to personnel files. In Alaska, you do not have to ask for advance permission to see the file and you may copy the file. In Washington state you must make an appointment to see the file, information is limited and you cannot copy the file.

Many states have no laws at all governing your question of “Can I look at my own personnel file and can I copy my personnel file?” If no laws exist, employees are generally permitted access. Being able to copy the file, however, is not a widespread practice. Employees are best advised to ask to see the file and ask for a copy of a specific document if needed. Employers are encouraged to allow access and fill reasonable requests for copies.


The Management Advantage, What’s in a Personnel File (and what should not be), 2009

Business Owner’s Toolkit, Who Can See Personnel Files