Best Practices for Responding to Personnel Record Demands

Posted by Catherine Chukwueke | Jan 23, 2024

California Labor Code Section 1198.5, grants both current and former employees, or their representatives, the right to inspect and receive a copy of their personnel files.  Below are some essential steps for employers when handling requests for personnel records.

Effective January 1, 2013, employers must adhere to specific guidelines when it comes to personnel record requests:

  1. Timely Response: Employers must respond to written requests for personnel records within 30 calendar days from the date of the request.

  2. Inspection Location: For current employees, records should be made available at the workplace. For former employees, records are accessible at the location where the employer stores them, unless otherwise agreed upon in writing.

  3. Cost of Reproduction: Employers can charge for the actual cost of reproducing records, but this charge should not exceed reasonable expenses.

  4. Frequency Limitations: Former employees are entitled to make only one request per year to inspect or receive a copy of their personnel records.

  5. Verification of Identity: Employers can take reasonable steps to verify the identity of the requester before providing access to personnel records.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

Failure to permit inspection or provide copies of personnel records within the specified timeframes can result in penalties:

  • A penalty of $750.00 may be imposed if an employer fails to comply.
  • Current or former employees have the right to bring an action for injunctive relief, costs, and reasonable attorney's fees for non-compliance.

Exceptions to the Right of Inspection

The right to inspect personnel files does not apply to certain categories of records:

  1. Records related to criminal offense investigations.
  2. Letters of reference.
  3. Ratings, reports, or records obtained before employment or in connection with a promotional examination.

Additional Personnel Record Requirements

  1. Payroll Records: Employers must allow current and former employees to inspect or copy payroll records, with compliance required within 21 calendar days from the date of the request.

  2. Piece Rate or Incentive Plans: Employers operating under piece rate or incentive plans must provide employees with piece rates or incentive plan formulas.

  3. Record Keeping: Accurate payroll records must be maintained and made readily available for employee inspection upon reasonable request.

  4. Toxic Exposure Records: Employers must provide access to records of employee exposure to potentially toxic materials or harmful physical agents.

  5. Access to Employment Records: Employees, upon request, should be provided copies of any instrument related to obtaining or holding employment.

In complying with personnel record requests, California employers can foster transparency, avoid legal repercussions, and maintain a positive employer-employee relationship. A proactive approach, in alignment with legal requirements, ensures a smooth and legally sound process for all parties involved.

If you have any questions regarding a request for personnel records or need guidance on California employment law, contact the Law Office of Catherine Chukwueke and schedule a consultation. We are here to help you navigate the complexities of employment law with confidence.

Disclaimer: This article has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. 

About the Author

Catherine Chukwueke

Catherine (“Cathy”) Chukwueke is the Owner and Principal Attorney of the Law Office of Catherine Chukwueke, a law firm focusing on labor and employment matters and workplace investigations. Ms. Chukwueke is passionate about helping people who have been mistreated in the workplace.

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