Did you ever wonder what’s in your personnel file? Do you know that you have a right to find out? What other documents are you entitled to see or copy? Below, I discuss the employment records you are entitled to get and share sample language for making such a request. It is critical for you to have these documents if you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, denied the pay or wages owed to you, or otherwise treated unlawfully.
Your Personnel File (California Labor Code § 1198.5)
Labor Code § 1198.5 provides that (with limited exception): “Every current and former employee, or his or her representative, has the right to inspect and receive a copy of the personnel records that the employer maintains relating to the employee’s performance or to any grievance concerning the employee.” 
The employer must make the personnel file/performance documents available to the worker or his representative within 30 days from the date it receives a written request. If the employer fails to comply, the employee can recover a $750 penalty from the employer. (Labor Code § 1198.5(k).)
Documents You Signed (Labor Code § 432)
Under Labor Code § 432, you are entitled to obtain copies of all documents you signed relating to your obtaining or holding of employment.
Payroll Records (Labor Code § 226)
Labor Code §§ 226 (b) and (c) require that an employer provide an employee (current or former) access and an opportunity to copy all payroll records within 21 days of an oral or written request (it may provide a copy at actual cost). If the employer fails to comply with the request within the allowed time, the employee can recover a $750 penalty from the employer. (Labor Code § 226(f).)
Sample Language for a Written Request
An employee does not need to hire a labor and employment lawyer to get access to his or her employment records. There is no special or magic language that needs to be used. Here is a sample language for a request from an employee to Human Resources or the employer’s designated person:
Request for Copies of Employment Records
I am requesting copies of the following records that my employer is obligated to provide to me:
- My personnel file and all other records which my employer maintains relating to my performance or to any grievance concerning me. (California Labor Code § 1198.5)
- All documents I signed that relate to my obtaining and holding of employment with my employer. (Labor Code § 432)
- All of my payroll records from the past three years. (Labor Code §§ 226(b) and (c))
Please send a complete copy of these records directly to me. Thank you.
In California, you have a right to access your employment records, including your personnel file, payroll records, or documents you signed. The process is a simple one that you can do yourself.
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 Note that an employer is not required to provide certain documents, including:
- Records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense.
- Letters of reference.
- Ratings, reports, or records that were:
(A) Obtained prior to the employee’s employment.
(B) Prepared by identifiable examination committee members.
(C) Obtained in connection with a promotional examination.