Why Can’t You Access Your Own Personnel File?

A common problem New Yorkers might run into when dealing with conflicts at work, such as discrimination, is the inability to access their own personnel files. While it may seem like looking at your own personnel file should be easy and completely harmless, it’s not likely you’ll ever have the chance. Very simply put, New York does not have a law that permits you to access your own employee personnel file.

What’s included in your personnel file?

Your personnel file may be made up of a number of different kinds of documents. First are the documents you yourself have provided to your employer, such as emergency contact information and tax-related documents. There will also be a plethora of documents you didn’t provide, but which you’ve already seen. Performance reviews and documents acknowledging things like your participation in trainings are probably the most common. In other words, these are likely fairly innocuous pieces of paper, and nothing that should cause concern.

However, there may also be some very different and potentially surprising things in your file. Reports or notes related to your behavior, performance or productivity, often provided by managers or supervisors, may be in there. If your supervisor has received written compliments — or complaints — from a customer regarding your job performance, those will likely be present.

Because personnel files are meant to be confidential, your employers are not supposed to give your information out. But this does happen, as other potential employers, creditors and even the police may be given your information.

In the event that you believe your personnel file may contain useful evidence to support, for example, a claim of discrimination against your employer, you are still entitled to submit a written request for access to the file. However, your employer is under no obligation to honor such a request. If your employer refuses, and you sincerely believe your file holds information that would greatly benefit your case, you should consult with a lawyer.

A New York City workplace discrimination attorney can provide the information and support you need, and can hopefully help you gain access to the information your employer is withholding.

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