Ex-Employees in Pennsylvania No Longer Entitled to Review Personnel Files

The Pennsylvania Personnel File Inspection Act permits employees to inspect their personnel files. The Act defines “employee” as “[a]ny person currently employed, laid off with reemployment rights or on leave of absence.” In a recent decision, Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, Inc. v. Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, 162 A.3d 384 (Pa. 2017), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the Act’s definition of “employee” excludes former employees. As a result, terminated employees have no right under the Act to inspect their personnel files and employers now have a clear right to deny their requests to do so.

In the Jefferson University case, a former employee submitted a request to access her personnel file within one week after Jefferson terminated her employment. After Jefferson denied her request, she filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (“DOLI”) seeking access to her personnel file. DOLI ruled that she was entitled to inspect her personnel file based on a 1996 ruling of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court and DOLI’s subsequent guidance establishing a thirty-day period after an employee’s termination for the employee to seek review of his/her file. Jefferson appealed the DOLI’s ruling to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court which affirmed the Department. Jefferson then took its appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court read the statute literally and held that former employees, who were not laid off with reemployment rights and were not on a leave of absence, have no right to inspect their personnel files. In a footnote, Justice Wecht indicated that former employees who believe they have been wrongfully terminated can access their personnel file by suing the employer and making discovery requests in connection with the litigation.

This can be an expensive option for an employer, however. Thus, even though an employer can now deny personnel file access to a former employee, the employer should at least consider granting access if it believes it might be able to avoid litigation.

If you have any questions regarding this Client Alert, please contact Theresa M. Zechman at 717.399.6644 or the Stevens & Lee attorney with whom you normally consult for labor and employment matters.

This News Alert has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be construed as, and does not constitute, legal advice on any specific matter. For more information, please see the disclaimer.