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Personnel Files

Do I have a right to view my personnel file?

The answer to this question depends on the state in which you work. The states of Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin allow at least limited access to your files. In the other states, reviewing your file is at the discretion of the employer.

CAUTION: Never take information from your personnel file without permission from your employer. Doing so may be illegal and create additional problems.

What should I expect to find in my file?

Typically, documents will fall under the following categories:

Are there certain documents that should not be kept in the personnel file?

Yes. Medical records should be kept separate, as well as Employment Eligibility Verification forms (Form I-9). Any investigative records, security clearances and credit reports should also be kept out of the file.

TIP: It is good policy to audit your employee's personnel files on a regular basis. Remove items that are no longer relevant, such as performance reviews more than 3 years old.

Is my electronic mail (e-mail) private?

Though there is an expectation of privacy, the answer is no. The company owns the equipment and the e-mail software, and is entitled to monitor its use. This extends to Web-based e-mail as well, whether it is Yahoo, AOL, AIM, or any other. The same rules hold true for voice mail.

TIP: Employers are advised to inform employees that they maintain the right to monitor e-mail. The best way to do this is by having an e-mail and Internet policy in which the employee consents to any monitoring.

Can my boss listen to my phone calls at work?

It depends. Companies often monitor calls for quality-control purposes. If they are monitoring for business reasons, there is generally no issue. In cases where the call is personal, the employer, under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), is supposed to immediately stop monitoring. There is an exception to this, where the employees are told not to make personal calls from business phones.

SIDEBAR: A number of states, most notably California, have state wiretap laws that provide employees with additional protection.

Is my employer entitled to see what is on my computer at work?

Again, because the employer owns the equipment, it is entitled to monitor that equipment to ensure its use is for business purposes. This monitoring can be done with the use of software that will monitor network and Internet usage.

Another type of computer monitoring is called "keystroke monitoring." Here the system counts how many keystrokes per hour each employee is making. It is typically used in industries where people spend most of their time inputting data. Some systems can monitor exactly what is being typed and deleted.

What restrictions, if any, are there on my company videotaping me without my permission?

For video monitoring to be permissible, the company must generally show a legitimate business purpose to do it, such as to protect inventory. Monitoring should not be done in private areas such as restrooms or locker rooms.

May my employer search my desk?

The answer to this varies by state. In some cases where you can lock the desk, the answer is no. In other jurisdictions, the desk is treated as employer property and therefore the employer maintains the right to inspect. Check with your local Department of Labor for the regulations in your state.