Most companies maintain an employee file on each employee which contains various information as to the employee. This article discusses the law in California as to what must be given to the employee to inspect upon request.

Documents to be Provided to the Employee in California and When:

1.     “Personnel records” must be produced within 30 days after demand. That date may be extended by 5 days if employer agrees in writing to produce the file.

2.     Payroll records must be produced in 21 days.

a.   Normally, most personnel files do not (and should not) contain payroll records beyond forms noting increases or decreases in the employee’s rate of pay. Upon receipt of a request from a former employee for “payroll” records, the employer must provide the complete records no more than 21 calendar days from the date of the request. Failure to do so may result in $750 penalty and even attorneys’ fees and court costs if a motion for injunctive relief is successfully brought.

3.    Documents must include a copy of any document that the employee or applicant has signed relating to the obtaining or holding of employment. See California Labor Code Section 432

4.   Categories of records that are generally considered to be "personnel records" are those that are used or have been used to determine an employee’s qualifications for promotion, additional compensation, or disciplinary action, including termination. The following are some examples of "personnel records" (this list is not all inclusive):

   1. Application for employment

   2. Payroll authorization form

   3. Notices of commendation, warning, discipline, and/or termination

   4. Notices of layoff, leave of absence, and vacation

   5. Notices of wage attachment or garnishment

   6. Education and training notices and records

   7. Performance appraisals/reviews

   8. Attendance records

5.       Documents may also exclude:

    1.   records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense,

    2.   letters of reference, or

    3.   ratings, reports, or records that (a) were obtained prior to the employee’s employment,(b) were prepared by identifiable examination committee members, or (c) were obtained in connection with a promotional exam.



    The rigid time lines must be adhered to and prior to delivering any document it is often wise to obtain competent legal advice. This is particularly true where the personnel file contains information relating to other employees, including managerial personnel since their respective rights must be kept in mind. See our article on privacy.