Employee Access to Personnel Files

August 9th, 2018 - Carmichael Clark

Personnel files, also known as employee files, are business records that may include records related to an employee’s job performance, salary, and other employment matters. From time to time, an employer may receive a request from current or former employee to review their personnel file.

Employers are required to permit current and former employees to inspect their own personnel file at least annually, but an employer may refuse to permit access to certain records. For instance, employers are not required to allow employees access to records relating to an investigation of a possible crime. An employer may also remove any irrelevant or incorrect information in the file.

While employers are required to permit inspection of a personnel file, the law in Washington State does not address whether employers are required to provide copies of the personnel file. If an employer chooses to provide copies, the law is silent on whether an employer may charge a fee for making copies. Many other states allow employers to require the employee to pay reasonable copying costs.

The personnel file must be made available locally. The personnel file is typically made available at the location where the employee works, but the inspection of the personnel file can take place anywhere as long as it is a mutually convenient location that’s agreed upon between employer and employee. An employee should also be provided access within a reasonable period of time after the employee makes a request. Employers should make the personnel file available within ten business days of the request, unless there is a good reason for the delay.

Permitting employees access to their personnel file is only a small part of an employer’s responsibility regarding employment records. It is recommended that employers keep abreast of requirements regarding the maintenance and retention of payroll and personnel records.


Esther E. Hyun, Attorney

Disclaimer: This article and blog are intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. They are not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.

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