Pennsylvania’s Personnel Files Act Is Under Review
On August 2, 2016, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted a Petition for Allowance of Appeal in order to decide whether Pennsylvania’s Personnel Files Act (“Act”) permits a former employee to review his or her personnel file. The case stems from an employer’s decision refusing the request of a recently terminated employee to review her personnel file.
On August 9, 2013, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (TJU) terminated an employee. One week later the employee requested to inspect her personnel file. TJU denied the request prompting the employee to file a complaint with Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry, Bureau of Labor Law Compliance (Department). The Department directed TJU to allow the inspection, and TJU appealed the Department’s decision to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. TJU argued to the Commonwealth Court that former employees are not entitled to review their personnel files under the Act.
The Act is designed to allow employees to review files held by their employers that contain information about themselves. The Act provides that an employer shall permit employees to inspect their own personnel files used to determine qualifications for employment, promotion, additional compensation, termination or disciplinary action. However, the Act defines an “employee” as “any person currently employed, laid off with re-employment rights or on leave of absence.” TJU argued to the Commonwealth Court that because its former employee was not currently employed at the time she requested review of her file, that the Act did not permit review. The Commonwealth Court disagreed.
The Commonwealth Court determined that the definition of “current” includes “presently elapsing” and/or “most recent.” The Commonwealth Court therefore decided that a recently terminated employee qualifies as a current employee. The Commonwealth Court also noted that the Act permits an employee to inspect her personnel file to determine the basis for her termination, which inspection would not be possible while currently employed. The Commonwealth Court held that in order to avoid an absurd result, a recently discharged employee must be included in the definition of “employee” under the Act, and therefore affirmed the Department’s decision to permit inspection.
TJU took an appeal of the Commonwealth Court’s decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court has taken the case to decide this issue once and for all. Stay tuned for more news when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decides the case in 2017.
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