One of my favorite career advisers recently generated an online discussion about the importance of keeping your own personnel file.
It was a good reminder that employers own the files, not employees.
Some job hunters are surprised to learn they can’t get copies of past evaluations or other documents that they think would be favorable in their job searches.
It’s hard to give blanket advice because laws vary state by state. In general, though, a former employee is much less likely than a current employee to gain access to his or her personnel file.
Laws and employer policies also vary about exactly what access a current employee has. Some employers might allow an employee to read the file on site but not have copies.
The important takeaway for anyone planning to look for another job is that you can’t count on being able to retrieve your personnel records once you’ve left an employer.
And even if you’re not planning a job change, it’s wise to start keeping copies of personnel documents as they are shared. Always keep your own copies of performance reviews.
It’s smart, too, to keep originals or copies of congratulatory notes and other positive feedback. And keep your own records of the negative stuff such as disciplinary notices.
Having your own file may help you make the case when you seek a promotion or pay raise. And it might help protect you if you end up in disciplinary or even legal proceedings.
There has been a lot of attention lately to inaccuracies in credit reports. Consumers are advised to periodically run their own checks with credit reporting agencies to protect their financial reputations.
Similarly, some errors in personnel files could have consequences. A wrong date could affect retirement payments or health care coverage, for example. A disputed performance entry could color perceptions of you by future managers who read your file.
So don’t be shy about asking your human resource department or boss what’s in your file. It may be an uncomfortable question, but depending on your individual circumstances, it might be worth it.
Diane Stafford is the workplace and careers columnist at The Kansas City Star. Her “Your Job“ blog at economy.kansascity.com includes daily posts about job-related issues of wide interest. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or by email at dstaffordkcstar.com.