Ask the Lawyer: Can I get my personnel file?

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Q:  I was let go from a job without explanation, after three years.  From what I am able to piece together, someone told HR I was acting inappropriately outside work, and was a poor reflection on the company (or some such nonsense).  I want to see what is in my personnel file. Am I entitled to it?  Is there anything they can exclude?

– E.B., Torrance

A:  California law provides that current and former employees (or a representative thereof) have the right to inspect and receive a copy of the personnel file and records that relate to the employee’s performance, or to any grievance concerning the employee. Pursuant to California Labor Code Section 1198.5, the inspection must be permitted at a reasonable time, but no later than 30 calendar days from the date that the employer receives a written request. The employer can charge the cost of reproduction, and if mailed, the amount of postage. There are certain items that can be excluded: (a) Records related to the investigation of a potential criminal offense, (b) letters of reference, and (c) reports, records or ratings obtained before your employ, prepared by identifiable examination committee members, or obtained with regard to a promotional exam.

Q:  I am having a dispute with my employer, and requested my personnel file.  It’s been 45 days, which I understand is longer than allowed.  Do I have any recourse?

– L.S., Wilmington

Ron Sokol

A:  An employee, former employee, or the California Labor Commissioner’s office, may take action to seek to recover a penalty of $750 from the employer for this delinquency (as noted in the first answer above, your records were due 30 days from request). You can also file a lawsuit for injunctive relief to enforce your right, require compliance, and in that lawsuit you may be able to recover costs and reasonable attorney fees.

Q: I am out on disability leave.  Is my employer entitled to disclose my medical records to others?

–  J.T., Lomita

A:  It is mandatory under California law that an employer establish procedures to maintain the confidence of employee medical records, and to keep them from unauthorized use and/or disclosure. This mandate includes disability records.  It is a good idea for the employer to have the records kept separately, and in such manner as to limit access. In fact, it can constitute a misdemeanor if an employer fails to maintain the confidentiality of an employee’s medical records.

Ron Sokol is a Manhattan Beach attorney with more than 35 years of experience. His column, which appears on Wednesdays, presents a summary of the law and should not be construed as legal advice. Email questions and comments to him at RonSEsq@aol.com or write to him at Ask the Lawyer, Daily Breeze, 21250 Hawthorne Blvd., Suite 170, Torrance, CA 90503.