Ever heard of that old saying “nothing good happens after 1 a.m”? It’s a recognition that a simple act often increases the risk of getting into some kind of trouble.
Human Resource Managers should view an employee’s simple act of requesting a copy of their personnel file the same way – nothing good ever comes from it. Typically, an employee requests a copy of his personnel file only when there is an actual or potential dispute brewing with his employer. In fact, it is usually one of the first steps an employee (or ex-employee) takes in filing a claim against the employer.
So treat such requests carefully. Assume that it is likely a claim will be filed. Follow any applicable state laws in responding to them, and make sure that any documents that should not be in the file, or are not required by law to be produced, are taken out. Always remove any emails or other documents evidencing communications between the company and its attorneys. And then hope you never hear from the employee again.
Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202