Search form

Former Employees Do Not Have Right to Inspect Personnel Files, Pennsylvania High Court Clarifies

By Sheri L. Giger and Bethany Swaton Wagner
  • July 24, 2017

Terminated employees, even those recently separated, are not entitled to inspect their personnel file under the Pennsylvania Inspection of Employment Records Law (the “Act”), according to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Inc. v. Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, No. 30 EAP 2016 (June 20, 2017). This decision, authored by Justice David Wecht, puts an end to an employer’s previous conundrum of determining what constitutes “recently” separated when evaluating a former employee’s request to review his or her personnel file.

At the heart of the Court’s analysis was the definition of the term “employee” under the Act. Until this decision, the definition of employee had been interpreted to include “recently” terminated employees. What was not clear, however, was how recent the termination had to be to constitute “recently” terminated. Relying on basic principles of statutory interpretation, the Court determined that interpreting “employee” to include recently terminated employees was too broad.

Under the Act, an employee is defined as “[a]ny person currently employed, laid off with reemployment rights or on leave of absence.” Excluded from the definition are “applicants for employment or any other person.” Turning to the Oxford English Dictionary, the Court examined the plain meaning of the term “currently,” which is defined as “now, at the present moment.” It determined that including those “recently terminated” was at odds with the dictionary definition of “currently.” The Court concluded, “[t]he term ‘currently employed’ cannot mean both presently employed and formerly employed.”

Nothing within the language of the Act expanded the right of inspection to former employees, the Court concluded. Reading the Act according to its plain meaning, the Court held that “former employees, who were not laid off with re-employment rights and who are not on a leave of absence, have no right to access their personnel files pursuant to the Act, regardless of how quickly following termination they request to do so.”

As a practical matter, this finally clarifies an employer’s obligations under the Act. Employers no longer need to evaluate how recently an employee was terminated from employment when receiving a request from a former employee to review his or her personnel file, no matter how recent the termination.

Please contact a Jackson Lewis attorney with any questions about this decision or other workplace developments.

©2017 Jackson Lewis P.C. This Update is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice nor does it create an attorney/client relationship between Jackson Lewis and any readers or recipients. Readers should consult counsel of their own choosing to discuss how these matters relate to their individual circumstances. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited without the express written consent of Jackson Lewis.

This Update may be considered attorney advertising in some states. Furthermore, prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Jackson Lewis P.C. represents management exclusively in workplace law and related litigation. Our attorneys are available to assist employers in their compliance efforts and to represent employers in matters before state and federal courts and administrative agencies. For more information, please contact the attorney(s) listed or the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you regularly work.

See AllRelated Articles You May Like

November 10, 2017

The Speak Out Evolution from Ms. Magazine to #MeToo: The Time Is Now for Employers to Re-Examine Their Practices

November 10, 2017

In a November 5, 2017 article, The New York Times harkened back to the 1977 Ms. magazine cover depicting sexual harassment on its cover. The point was to illustrate the fact that the 1977 Ms. cover is just as relevant today as it was then. In 1986, more than 20 years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the U.S. ... Read More

October 30, 2017

Chicago Adopts ‘Hands Off Pants On’ Law to Protect Hotel Workers from Sexual Harassment, Assault

October 30, 2017

To provide hospitality workers greater protections against sexual harassment and assault, the Chicago City Council passed the “Hands Off Pants On” Ordinance on October 11, 2017. The Ordinance requires all hotels in the City to adopt a panic button system and an anti-sexual harassment policy. The Ordinance was passed after months of... Read More

October 24, 2017

California Adds ‘Transgender,’ ‘Gender Nonconforming Individuals’ to Sexual Harassment Prevention Training for Supervisors

October 24, 2017

Employers subject to California’s mandatory sexual harassment training requirement for supervisors will need to ensure their programs include prevention of harassment based on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation following an amendment (SB 396) to California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). On October 15... Read More

Related Practices