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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Your Permanent Record

Remember the threat from your elementary school teachers? If you do something bad it will go in your permanent record! Horrors. You would never get into college, let alone live any sort of productive life with a black mark on your permanent record. It was enough to keep a young Evil HR Lady sitting up straight and paying attention. (Okay, I slouched and constantly read novels during school, but I was quiet and I did well on tests, so the teachers ignored me.) (Second parenthetical, my mom is going to kill her self laughing at the thought of me being quiet.)

Well, it turned out that your elementary school teacher was exaggerating on the effect your permanent record had. Your college didn't even request a transcript from your elementary school. All that being good for nothing.

You think you've outgrown permanent records? Well you haven't. You have a new one now, called a Personnel File. Everyone has one. Everyone should have several. They are permanent, except when they are not.

Daniel A Schwartz at the Connecticut Employment Law Blog writes about people requesting their personnel records.

The worry is that people are fretting about lawsuits, which he says is worrying for no good reason. I think personnel records are an interesting piece of information that we ignore too often.

Have you ever gotten a new job offer and then suddenly realized you didn't keep a copy of your non-compete agreement and you don't know what your restrictions are? (No comment on how silly it was to lose your copy of that. I'm evil, not mean.) You can get it from your personnel file. Feel like the company isn't living up to the promises in your offer letter? You can get a copy from your personnel file.

But, what (I suppose) most people are looking for are their performance appraisals and secret things placed there by their bosses. You should look at it.

Yes, it drives the record people nuts to have to pull your file, have you come over and look at it anyway. You should do it.

Why? Well, it turns out, much like your elementary school record, it was permanent but only in elementary school. It didn't follow you to college. When prospective employers call for a reference, they aren't going to be given a copy of your file. If they call HR, chances are they'll get confirmation of your dates of service an your job title and that's it. If they call your manager, they'll maybe get the real scoop.

So, why take the time to look at this permanent record? For internal transfers it is extremely important. A company won't share with outsiders, but they will certainly share with insiders. This is why it's important to insist a copy of your own self appraisal is attached to your manager's appraisal of you in the file. Get your side of the story in there.

And sit up straight and pay attention and don't poke the person next to you or you'll have to write "I will pay attention in class" 500 times before you can go to recess.


Princess Sparkle Pants said...

This has never crossed my mind. I didn't even know that employees were "allowed" to look at their personnel files. It still seems like it would be at least frowned upon... but I want to do it!

Just another HR lady... said...

Hi Princess..not sure about the US, but in Canada we have legislation which gives you the right to view any information an employer has on file that pertains to you.

From an employers perspective (and I think it's just good HR mgmt), we make sure that each and every document that goes on a personnel file has already been seen and/or signed by the employee (including disciplinary actions), so "asking to view your file" is no big deal. You've already seen it!

Does anyone know if the US has similar legislation? Just curious...

Evil HR Lady said...

Some states have legislation that requires access, I believe. In the companies I've worked at, nothing goes in your file without you knowing about it as well.

Mike Doughty said...

I'm not a lawyer, but as I understand the law, there's no Federal requirement that employees be allowed to even view their personnel records. Only about 20 states have such laws, but their provisions vary widely. In some states the employee can copy records, in others not. In some they can see the whole file, in other states there are restricted documents. In some states they can put dissenting statements in their file, in others not. Some companies in states with or without a requirement to allow employees to view their files may have a company policy to allow them to do so.

My point is that the employee should review state law and company policy before they demand to see their file, as they may very well have no right at all to do so.

Kat said...

I'm pretty lucky in this regard... each year, the firm I work for has secretaries fill out annual "self-evaluations" (similar to what their attorneys are filling out for them), which are placed in the file along with the actual attorney/paralegal evaluations. When we go into our HR manager's office for our review each year(gulp!), we are given copies of all of the above. Which I take home and guard religiously for future reference, lol! Don't know what, if any, "secret squirrel" type memos/notes/whatever are in there, but at least I DO know very clearly what my bosses' evaluations are (and the HR evaluation, as well).

Anonymous said...

I believe it was PJ Soles who delivered my all time favorite line in Rock and Roll High School: "nobody will even care if you went to high school".