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Jun 12, 201812:35 PMLaw at Work

with Jessica M. Kramer and Ashlie B. Johnson

12 tips for maintaining — and allowing access to — personnel files

(page 1 of 2)

If you have employees, you may have heard that you should keep employee files, also called personnel files. You may also know that there is a state law requiring employers to allow employees to view their own files. But what exactly should you keep in them? What should you do with the files? What other responsibilities do you have with respect to these files? These 12 questions and answers provide an overview.

1. What should I put in employee files?

Employees’ right to inspect includes documents which are used, or which have been used, to determine qualifications for employment, promotion, transfer, additional compensation, termination or other disciplinary action, and medical records. So, employee files should contain any document containing information that was used in support of a decision to hire, fire, discipline, transfer, or promote (including a pay increase) an employee. This does not necessarily include documents that support company-wide changes, but only those that relate to that individual employee.

Keep in mind that there are records the law requires employers to keep (and others you may just wish to keep as a good business practice) that should not be in employee files. This includes time/payroll records, other than documents supporting wage increases (if there are any).

2. Do I have to allow my employees to see their files? 

Yes, according to Wisconsin law. Employees have a right by statute to view or obtain a copy of their employee file. However, what exactly they see can be limited. See number 11, below.

3. Does the right to view their file apply to current and former employees?   

Every current and former employee is entitled to view or obtain a copy of his or her employee file.

4. What is the difference between “employee file” and “personnel file”?  

Nothing. Different people use different words to describe the same thing. Many in the human resources industry may use “personnel” for many things employee-related. The Wisconsin statute that allows employees to view or obtain copies of files, however, calls them “employee files.”

5. Can an employee make the request by telephone? 

The employee can, but the employer does not have to honor it. The employer may insist that it be in writing. This can be by mail, email, fax, or hand-delivery. Employers can also allow such requests to be made verbally, in person, but it is a good idea to have a paper trail of such requests.

6. May an employee view his or her file more than once?

Yes, up to two times each calendar year.


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About This Blog

Jessica M. Kramer is a partner at Kramer, Elkins & Watt LLC in Madison and writes about employment law. At KEW she handles employment law matters for businesses and individuals, and represents landlords in all aspects of landlord-tenant law. Jessica received her undergraduate degree from UW–Madison in 2000 and her Juris Doctor from the UW Law School in 2004.

 Ashlie B. Johnson, PHR, is the owner of Brooke Human Resource Solutions, serving the Dane County area. BrookeHR operates as an independent HR contracting resource for small businesses, providing a wide range of support as well as policy language, documentation, and employment agreements that meet today’s complex compliance standards. Ashlie received her B.S. in Human Resource Management from St. Cloud State University in 2002 and has been a certified PHR since 2007.



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