Whether you’ve been the victim of employment discrimination, you’re fighting to obtain unemployment benefits, or you’re just curious about what records your employer keeps about you, one of the most useful rights you have as an Oregon employee is the right to obtain your own personnel records.
Under ORS 652.750, you can request that your employer (or former employer) provide you with copies of all records related to your employment–or you can request to inspect the records–and the employer must usually grant the request within 45 days of receiving it. Once you’ve left a job, regardless of whether you quit or were laid off or fired, the employer is required to keep your records for at least 60 days to give you enough time to request them. Of course, there are several important details about these records that often get overlooked by both workers and employers.
As an employment discrimination attorney, I send these requests to companies as a routine part of many cases. But sometimes, if a request is not worded correctly, employers will only send back what’s physically located in an employee’s “personnel file.” Fortunately, the law requires more than this. The records you are entitled to receive include any records “that are used or have been used to determine [your] qualification for employment, promotion, additional compensation or employment termination or other disciplinary action.” ORS 652.750(2). Often, there are many such records that are not held in your physical personnel file.
For instance, an employer may have disciplined you due to the content of an e-mail, but never placed the e-mail in your physical personnel folder. For that reason, it’s important to make clear in your request that you want all documents covered by the law, regardless of where they are located. An employer may charge you the actual cost of copying these files. ORS 652.750(5). But an employer faces a $1,000 fine if it fails to honor your right to receive your personnel records. ORS 652.900(1).
Knowing where and when to send a request, and how to word the request, all can best be determined by an attorney, especially one who handles employment cases. But having the right to obtain your records is a key right that helps ensure so many other job-related protections, from the right against unlawful discrimination to the right to be reinstated after recovering from a workplace injury.