All employers should be aware of the specific laws and regulations pertaining to employee personnel files. Pursuant to the Pennsylvania Personnel File Act, medical information should not be included in an employee’s personnel file. Medical information includes any document that relates or refers to an individual’s physical or mental health, condition, or impairment, including but not limited to notes, excuses or any other information received from an employee’s doctor, FMLA paperwork, injury reports, workers’ compensation claim forms, medical exam results, medical questionnaires, information concerning prescription drug use, alcohol use or past drug addiction (excluding current illegal drug use), drug and alcohol testing information, documents relating to any request for accommodation or the interactive process, information relating to claims for disability benefits or health insurance claims, and any employee hazardous substance exposure records. All information that relates in any way to an employee’s medical condition should be kept in a separate, secure and confidential file.
Medical records aren’t the only items that do not belong in an employee’s personnel file. Records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense, reference letters, documents developed or prepared for use in civil, criminal or grievance procedures or materials which are used by the employer to plan for future operations or information available to the employee under the Fair Credit Reporting Act are also excluded from the definition of personnel file.
So, what should be included in an employee’s personnel file? Applications for employment, wages or salary information, notices of commendations, warnings or disciplinary letters or actions taken, authorizations for payroll deductions or withholding of pay, fringe benefit information, leave records, employment history with the employer, including salary information, job title, employment status changes, attendance records, retirement record, and performance evaluations are all included in the definition provided by the Pennsylvania Personnel File Act.
Pennsylvania employers should also be aware that the law gives employees (or their designated agents) the right to inspect his or her personnel file(s) upon request. Only current employees are entitled to access, but this will include recently terminated employees who make a request for access within a short period of time following termination.
Employers may require a written request before allowing access, including the purpose of the request or the specific parts of records the employee wishes to review, to assist the employer with producing the correct records. An employer must honor the inspection request and make personnel records available during regular business hours of the office where the records are ordinarily maintained, and must allow sufficient time for inspection of same. The employer may limit inspection to once every calendar year by an employee and once every calendar year by the employee’s designated agent, if any, except for reasonable cause. While employees have the right to such an inspection, employees may not remove, copy or mark personnel records, although they may make separate notes about the records. Such inspection may take place in the presence of an employer’s designated official, and the employer retains the right to protect the integrity of the file(s).