Pennsylvania’s Personnel Files Act allows employees to review their personnel files once per year. While there are some restrictions on an employee’s right to inspect his or her file, the Act defines employees covered by the Act as “[a]ny person currently employed, laid off with reemployment rights or on leave of absence. The term ’employe’ shall not include applicants for employment or any other person.” 43 P.S. § 1321.
In Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, Inc. v. Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, No. 2275 C.D. 2014 (Pa. Commonwealth Ct. January 6, 2016), the court held that “current” employees include those who have been recently terminated.
The court noted that the dictionary definition of “current” includes “‘presently elapsing, occurring in or existing at the present time’ or ‘most recent.'” Thomas Jefferson at 4. The court further noted that, under the Act, among the documents an employee may inspect from his or her personnel files are those that were “used to determine his or her own qualifications for employment, promotion, additional compensation, termination or disciplinary action.” Id. at 3. The court reasoned that the Act therefore must cover recently terminated employees, or the phrase allowing them to look at documents concerning termination would not make sense.
Here, the employee had been terminated one week prior to her request to inspect. The court held that the employee was covered by the Act, and was entitled to inspect her personnel file. The court noted that, in an earlier case, it had held that an employee who had been terminated two years prior to her request to inspect was not covered by the Act, and did not have the right to inspect her file. Beitman v. Department of Labor and Industry, 675 A.2d 1300 (Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 1996). The court gave no further guidelines about how long after a termination an employee may be able to inspect his or her personnel file.
What Does This Mean For You? If a recently terminated employee seeks to review his or her personnel file, by law, you should allow the inspection. You may want to consult counsel as to your rights as an employer. For example, the Act specifically delineates just what documents constitute a reviewable personnel file. It also gives guidance about when review may occur, who may be involved in the review, and what actions the employee may take during the review. While an employee or recently terminated employee may have the right to inspect his or her file, the employer is not required to provide a copy of the file.
In addition, by keeping in mind that employees can review their files, employers are well advised to ensure that personnel files are up to date and contain only relevant information. Employers should also ensure that personnel files do not contain medical records. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that all medical records be kept in confidential files, separate from personnel files.
If you have any questions about this or any other employment or labor law issue, please contact Whitney Rahman at (717) 509-7237 or firstname.lastname@example.org.