Employers can receive requests for employment records of current and former employees though different ways. It is important for employers to first carefully review the request to understand what is being requested. It is important to understand who is making the request? Is the request only seeking a personnel file? Is the request only seeking payroll records? It is possible that a third party, such as a governmental agency or a party in litigation is seeking employment records for an employee. In this case, it is important for the employer to understand its obligations in protecting the privacy interest of the employee in connection with the rights of third parties to obtain these records.

The following are five ways that employers may have to provide copies of employment records or make employment records available for inspection.

1. Request under Labor Code Section 432, which provides employees with a right to receive a copy of any signed document upon request by the employee.

2. Request under Labor Code section 1198.5, which provides for the right of current and former employees to inspect and receive a copy of personnel records.

A few guidelines regarding requests under section 1198.5:

  • Employers must comply no later than 30 days from when the request is received.
  • If employee asks for copy of file, employer may charge actual costs of coping to employee.
  • Employers may take reasonable steps to ensure identity of the current or former employee.
  • Employers may redact the names of any nonsupervisory employees contained in the personnel file.
  • Employees have no right to inspection under this section if lawsuit has already been initiated.
  • Failure to comply with this section can result in a $750 penalty.

3. Request under Labor Code section 226(b), which allows current and former employees to inspect or copy records pertaining to their employment.

A few guidelines regarding requests under section 226(b):

  • Employers can take reasonable steps to ensure the identity of a current or former employees, and that they are actually making the request.
  • Actual costs of reproduction may be charged by the employer.
  • Employers must comply within 21 days of request.
  • Failure to comply with this section can result in a $750 penalty.

4. Public agencies, such as the Department of Labor or California Labor Commissioner, have the right to inspect records and workplaces under limited circumstances.

For example, under the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Department of Labor (DOL) has certain permissions to investigate and gather date about wages, hours worked, and other working conditions at workplaces. The FLSA also provides the DOL limited permission to enter employers’ premises, review records, and even potentially question employees about employment practices. Upon receiving a request from any public agency, such as the DOL or the California Labor Commissioner, an employer should immediately review what obligations and rights it has in responding to the request.

5. Requests for records through subpoenas.

Employers can also receive subpoenas from third parties seeking employment records. The “custodian of records” is responsible for responding to the requests and producing employment records in certain circumstances. California law requires that a request for a personnel file include a “Notice to Consumer” notifying the employee that such records are being sought, and providing the individual an opportunity to object to the disclosure of the information. If the employee or former employee has not been notified, or objects to the production of the requested records, the employer should not produce the information requested unless and until a court orders otherwise, or the affected employee agrees to the production. If the subpoena seeks the disclosure of confidential or proprietary information, you should contact an attorney to see if the company has an obligation to move to quash the subpoena or seek an appropriate protective order to preserve the confidentiality of the information sought.

Employers should not produce requested documents before they are due and without being satisfied that the proper subpoena procedures and notice requirements, if applicable, have been met. Employers do have a duty to maintain the privacy rights of current and former employees.