What CA Business Owners Need to Know About Personnel Records Requests

DATE: May 8th, 2019

If a former employee contacts you to ask for a copy of their personnel records, do you know what information you’re legally required to share (and in what timeframe)?  There are strict laws when it comes to responding to personnel records requests – and many California business owners put themselves at risk because they simply don’t understand what’s expected of them.

Compliance with employment regulations can be complex – so we’re committed to exploring the most important details of today’s most relevant HR topics.  In this post, we’ll discuss what you need to know to properly respond to personnel records requests.

Personnel Records Requests

What’s the Difference Between “Personnel Files” & “Payroll Records”?

When it comes to personnel records requests in California, employees generally have the right to access records related to their performance, grievances involving the employee, and itemized wage statements. There are two statues that are most relevant – one which covers personnel files and another for payroll records.

Personnel Files (Labor Code Section 1198.5) – Current or former employees have the right to view or receive a copy of their personnel records by submitting are quest in writing (oftentimes by completing an employer-provided request form).  Generally speaking, the request must be fulfilled within 30 calendar days.

Payroll Records (Labor Code Section 226) – Current or former employees also have the right to view or receive a copy of their payroll records, but this type of request may be either written or oral.  Payroll record requests must be fulfilled within 21 calendar days (a shorter period than for personnel files). 

What Documents Are Considered “Personnel Records”?

California business owners and HR professionals are often confused about what documents they’re legally required to provide when faced with personnel records requests – and for good reason.  Unfortunately, the terms personnel files or personnel records aren’t implicitly defined in the code.  The State’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) does, however, offer some broad guidance by stating that these are files that contribute to “an employee’s qualifications for promotion, additional compensation, or disciplinary action, including termination.”

Some examples include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Application for employment
  • Payroll authorization form
  • Notices of commendation, warning, discipline, and/or termination
  • Notices of layoff, leave of absence, and vacation
  • Notices of wage attachment or garnishment
  • Education and training notices and records
  • Performance appraisals/reviews
  • Attendance records

The code does clearly state, however, that it doesn’t apply to: records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense, letters of reference, or records that were a) obtained prior to the employee’s employment, b) prepared by identifiable examination committee members, or c) obtained in connection with a promotional examination.

At A Glance – What’s Most Important to Remember When Responding to Personnel Records Requests?

  • Personnel file requests must be made in writing – and employers should provide request forms.
  • Payroll record requests can be made in writing or orally – and employers should consider either as a formal request.
  • Access to or copies of personnel files are due within 30 calendar days, and access to or copies of payroll records are due within 21 calendar days.
  • Failure to meet the mandated deadlines could result in a $750 penalty per violation.

Looking for Help Preparing For & Responding To Personnel Records Requests?

Trusted in the community since 2007, California Labor Solutions LLC (CLS) is a specialized HR consulting firm – based out of Orange County, California – that offers comprehensive, personalized, and scalable outsourcing services designed to grow with your evolving needs. 

As Founder and CEO of CLS, Shawn Larry takes a solutions-driven approach to human resources – working to inspire confidence in the CEOs and managers who depend on his leadership.  In addition to 20+years of experience in the field, Shawn has achieved many credentials and recognitions, including a J.D. from UOP-McGeorge Law School; California Private Investigator License; Certified Mediator; Senior Professional in Human Resources Certification (by HR Certification Institute); and Senior Certified HR Professional (by International Public Management Association).

CLS services include: HR Consulting & Regulatory Compliance, Training & Professional Development, Workplace Investigations, and Quality Management Programs.

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