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Know Your Rights.


Most states allow all employees access to their personnel files - but not all of them. And laws vary from state-to-state in terms of what you can and cannot see.

Here is a list of typical information that your file contains:


  • Your job description
  • Your job application(s) and/or resume
  • Offer of employment
  • IRS Form W-4 (Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate)
  • Receipt or signed acknowledgment of receiving an employee handbook
  • Performance evaluations
  • Forms relating to employee benefits
  • Forms with contact information for next of kin and emergency contacts
  • Complaints from customers and/or coworkers
  • Awards or citations for excellent performance
  • Records of attendance or completion of training programs
  • Warnings and/or other disciplinary actions
  • Notes on attendance or tardiness
  • Any contract, written agreement, receipt, or acknowledgment between you and your employer (such as a noncompete agreement, confidentiality agreement, an employment contract, or an agreement relating to a company-provided car)
  • Documents relating to your departure from the company (such as reasons for termination, resignation, unemployment documents, insurance continuation forms, and so on).


Who Sees Your Files?

Generally, those is human resources have access. Your boss has access to anything s/he wrote or included, such as a performance review. Obviously, employers keep records for many reasons - including having documentation in the event of a lawsuit or problem. Generally, human resources employees are governed by company policies to keep and treat your information as private.

What Information Can You See In Your Employee Files?

Again, this varies based on the laws for the state where you live. And in some cases there are different laws for private companies versus government agencies. This is why it is good to know the laws that pertain to your state. Click here to check our list. You should also contact your state's labor department for clarification on your rights before you ask to see what's in your files.

As a general rule, employers may withhold viewing access to files that might implicate a third party, be a part of an internal investigation, reference letters, or a criminal background check.

Request to Review

If you have cause or concern and your state allows employee access to files - make your request in writing, and compose a brief email request to the human resources director. Be polite, and keep your request short, factual, and by all means - do not be confrontational. Do not imply that you think there is information that might be false. Just ask for an appointment to exercise your right to review your file.

If your request is approved, do not be surprised if there are at least two people in the room. Understandably, employers do this for legal reasons. They want to insure that the review is witnessed and the information in your file is not compromised or changed.

The Review Meeting


If a review meeting is approved, be sure to be there on time. When you are reviewing your file, ask for copies of documents. In most cases, the human resources representative will make the copy and not allow you to do it yourself. This is to be expected.

Bring paper and a pen to take notes in case you are not allowed to make copies. Then, in the event that you need to dispute information, you will have a reference. You should also bring post-it-notes to flag pages that you wish a copy of - if allowed.


Information That Should Not Be In Employee Files

There are state and federal laws preventing employers from keeping two types of records in your files --- medical records and immigration I-9 authorization to work documents from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Medical and immigration-related information is to be kept, by law, in separate files --- not in your employee files. If you see this information in your files notify them to remove it. In the event that your company is required to allow government authorities to review personnel files, your employment information should not be viewed along with medical and/or immigration documentation.

Request for Rebuttal

If you notice items that you dispute, ask about how to have information removed or corrected if you have cause to disagree with what is written. If your request is declined, inform them that you wish to prepare and attach a rebuttal statement to the document that you dispute. It cannot be stressed enough that you must be aware of your rights, as they pertain to the laws in your state. If your labor department has informed you that you do, in fact, have the right to include a rebuttal you will know that your request cannot be declined. 


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Overview of State Laws Regarding Access

to Employee Files

DISCLAIMER: List below is as of January, 2010.  Note that we cannot guarantee accuracy. Only attorneys licensed in your state can provide the most accurate and current legal information. Also check with your state Department of Labor. Even if your company headquarters is in another state - your rights are based on the laws in the state where you are employed.


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Do You Know What's In

Your Employee Files?