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How Employers Should Handle Requests for Personnel Documents

June 7, 2023

In Wisconsin, employers are required, by law, to allow employees to inspect or receive copies of certain personnel documents, upon an employee’s request. An employer’s legal obligations are set forth in Wisconsin Statute § 103.13.

The documents that an employee is entitled to inspect, or receive copies of, are all personnel documents that are used or have been used in determining that employee’s qualifications for employment, promotion, transfer, additional compensation, termination, or other disciplinary action, and medical records. When making a request, employees usually refer to these documents as a “personnel file.”

The documents must be made available or provided within 7 working days after the employee has made a request. If an employee requests copies, rather than an inspection, an employer is entitled to charge a reasonable fee for providing copies of the records, which may not exceed the actual cost of reproduction.

An employer should not disregard or delay the production of a requested personnel file. There are monetary penalties that may be applied in the event an employer fails to comply with the statute.

An employee’s request for personnel documents is often an indication that the employee is upset with some action by the employer and may be considering some type of legal action.

Employment lawyers almost always ask an employee to provide a copy of his or her personnel file as part of reviewing potential legal action against an employer.

A request to inspect or receive copies of a personnel file is sometimes a warning sign to an employer. Upon receiving such a request, an employer should consider if a review of employment actions by a human resources professional or an attorney is appropriate to confirm that a violation of employment laws has not occurred.

Documents from personnel files are frequently used in employment related litigation. As a result, it is important that an employer keep current and accurate documentation regarding employment related decisions.

Documentation should immediately be placed in an employee’s personnel file at the time of actions such as discipline or termination. The documentation should accurately reflect the relevant reasons for an employment-related decision.

An employer should not add documents to a personnel file days after the fact in an attempt to justify an employment-related decision. Placing documents in a personnel file, after the file has been sent to the employee, is especially suspect and problematic for an employer in the event of an employment dispute.