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Access To Personnel Files in California

Did you know you have a legal right to inspect your personnel file and payroll records? Or get copies of your payroll records and any job-related document you have signed? If not, you’re not alone. But more important, what are you waiting for? All employees should check their personnel file and payroll records periodically to guard against unfair negative evaluations or warning letters, or mistakes in paychecks, withholdings or vacation accruals. It’s also important to do if you’re thinking about making a complaint or filing a lawsuit.

Make your request by mailing a letter to your employer via certified mail, return receipt requested (ask your local post office about this – it only costs a few dollars). Your employer then has (a) in the case of payroll records, 21 calendar days from the date of your request and (b) in the case of signed job-related documents, a reasonable period of time, to give you the copies. In reality, the employer is likely to send it all to you in one batch. If your employer doesn’t comply with the above, it could be subject to potentially big penalties plus any attorney fees you incur.

Here’s a sample request letter (you should change the tone and wording to fit your circumstances – for example in some case, a less lawyerly tone might be better):

This is a formal request that I be permitted to inspect the contents of my personnel file and payroll records pursuant to California Labor Code Sections 226(c) and 1198.5. Please provide me with (i) copies of the payroll records as soon as practicable but no later than 21 calendar days and (ii) copies of any job-related documents I have signed.

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