How to Find Out What’s in Your Personnel File in California

There are many reasons an employee may want to know what information is included in their personnel file. For example, perhaps you have been terminated for reasons that you believe are unfair or even illegal. Or, you might suspect that you have not been compensated properly for your work.

Luckily, in California, employees have the right to access their personnel files and the information contained within. This overview will explain the process.

Accessing Your Personnel File in California: What You Need to Know

Under California law, if you officially request to see or obtain a copy of documents in your own personnel file, your employer must comply with your request. In fact, California’s labor code clearly states that current and former employees must be provided with access to or copies of their personnel files upon request.

This may include documents related to the hiring process. Specifically, California’s labor code states that “[i]f an employee or applicant signs any instrument relating to the obtaining or holding of employment, he shall be given a copy of the instrument upon request.”

Your personnel file should also include documentation of performance reviews. Another section of California’s labor code requires employers to regularly provide workers with documentation relating to hours worked, wages earned, deductions taken, and other information relating to their employment.

This all demonstrates that any worker in California has a legal right to see what’s in their personnel file or a similar document related to performance or grievance. 

How Do I Access My Personnel File?

Send a Formal Letter

Don’t merely ask to see your personnel file in an informal conversation. You must make the request in writing. Send a business letter or email to make your request valid. Ideally, you should include a signature or e-signature.

Make a copy of the letter or send it through certified mail if you send a physical letter. If you send an email, do not delete it. Although unlikely, it may be important for you to be able to prove you sent a formal request at some point in the future.

Cite the Relevant Laws and Codes

Quite simply, it’s possible your employer is not fully aware of these laws. Or, they might even assume you’re not aware of them. If you cite the relevant law, they’ll know that you are aware of your rights.

They could potentially try to prevent you from accessing your personnel file by claiming that you don’t have a legal right to do so. You’ll generally find it easier to access this type of document if you cite the applicable laws and codes when making your request.

Consider Hiring an Attorney

Again, the reasons you might want to see your personnel file in California can be varied.

The following are just a few examples of employment-related issues that might warrant such a request:

The main point to keep in mind is that these issues can be complicated and contentious. This is particularly true if you’re not thoroughly familiar with all of California’s relevant labor laws.

Knowing this, you might want to consult with an attorney before requesting a copy of your personnel file. If you do request access to your personnel file without the help of a lawyer, you should definitely consult with one if your request is denied. Remember, under California law, there are very few instances in which your employer has a legal right to deny such a request.

If a request is denied, hiring a lawyer can improve your chances of resolving the issue as quickly as possible. Perhaps more importantly, your attorney can review your personnel file in detail to confirm whether your employer has engaged in any behavior (such as paying you less than you may be owed) that deserves to be addressed via legal action.