“Personnel File” - The Everchanging Landscape

If you’re a Humboldt County employer, you’ve likely been asked over the years by an employee to see the employee’s personnel file.  For many years, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement helpfully offered some examples of what documents comprised such a file.  In January 2013, however, the California State Legislature added a wrinkle to the works.  Since that date, California Labor Code section 1198.5(a) suggests that personnel files now include “records that the employer maintains relating to the employee's performance or to any grievance concerning the employee.”  (Emphasis added.)  Do such records now become part of the employee’s personnel file, and must the employer turn over such records—which arguably include investigation notes and correspondence—whenever an employee requests his or her file?  The Legislative Digest for the enacting legislation is silent on whether the definition of a personnel file has been expanded with section 1198.5, and no other definitions exist in California statutes, which suggest that the Legislature had no intention of expanding the scope of what employers are obligated to produce in response to requests for personnel files. Without guidance from either the DLSE or California courts, however, employers are in a bit of a pickle.  Seek advice from an experienced employment law attorney if you have any questions about your personnel file policies and what the laws require of employers today.