If you find yourself unexpectedly fired from your job or the victim of an unfair demotion for engaging in protected activity, you have the right to view your personnel file under California law to look for documented reasons for your firing. Once you have the file, be on the lookout for documents that do not belong in there. You may find your employer has violated state or federal law by keeping the wrong documents in your personnel file.
For instance, Ieci.org explains that your employer may be breaking any number of federal laws if your medical records are mixed into your personnel file. Your medical information is meant to be confidential and should be kept in a separate file. Depending on the medical documents kept in your file, the employer could be in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), among other laws.
Employers should also keep disciplinary records out of a personnel file. Some employees may be justly disciplined for misconduct against fellow employees or against the company. However, workers may also be falsely accused. Keeping this information in a confidential file helps protect employees who may have been wrongly accused or were exonerated of wrongdoing. Conversely, allowing disciplinary documents in a personnel file may lead to wrongful demotions or terminations.
Perhaps the worst documents to discover are documents that contain outright lies. Unfortunately, there have been cases where workplace supervisors have concocted documents with false information to justify the demotion or firing of a worker. Even if the supervisor claims to have only made an after action report of your firing, check the dates on the document. Any false information intended to make the document fit into the timeline before your firing is still wrong information and can ruin the credibility of the employer.
In addition, there are many other files that may run afoul of privacy laws and could indicate that an employer used the information to treat you unfairly. Smallbusiness.com lists a number of records to watch for, including child support documents, workers’ compensation claims, results of drug tests, background checks, payroll information, references provided by the employee, and results from employment tests.
It is not always the case that inappropriate documents in your personnel file are illegal to be kept in there. However, that does not mean harm cannot come from them. Consulting with an attorney can help you understand the type of damage these misplaced documents can do to you.