Do Employees in NC Have the Right to Review Their Personnel Files?

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george pic for news_portrait.jpgPrivate sector employers are not required to allow employees to review their personnel files.  Public sector employers are required to allow employees and past employees to review their personnel files (see CAI’s NC Employers’ Desk Manual, Chapter 15, page7).   Employers are, however, both Private and Public Sector, required to allow employees, past employees and their designated representatives, access to their medical and exposure records (OSHA General Industry Standards 1910.1020).  Access means the ability to examine and copy these records at no cost.


OSHA defines an employee medical record as a record concerning the health status of an employee which is made or maintained by a physician, nurse or other health care personnel, or technician including the following:


  • Medical and employment questionnaires or histories
  • Results of medical examinations
  • Medical opinions, diagnoses, progress notes and recommendations
  • First aid records
  • Descriptions of treatments including prescriptions
  • Employee medical complaints


Records not considered as medical records by OSHA are those such as:


  • Records containing information about physical specimens such as blood and urine samples
  • Health insurance claims if kept separately from  medical records
  • Records created only for use of voluntary employee assistance programs


OSHA defines employee exposure records as exposure to toxic substances and harmful physical agents such as:


  • Metals and dusts (lead, cadmium, silica, etc.)
  • Biological agents (bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc.)
  • Physical stress (heat, cold, noise, vibration, repetitive motion, etc.)


Be reminded that employers are required by OSHA to maintain employee medical records during employment plus thirty (30) years. 
Employee exposure records are to be maintained for thirty (30) years from the date received or made by the employer. 


Now that we’ve established the regulations regarding access to medical and exposure records, what should NC private sector employers do if employees request to review their personnel files?   Even though not required to do so, CAI recommends that employees be allowed to review their personnel files. This will strengthen an effective open door policy and maintain open communication channels promoting positive employer-employee relations. As a general rule, however, files should be reviewed under supervision with the understanding that employees are not permitted to photocopy materials in their file or to remove their files from company property and irrelevant items should be removed from the files. Employees reviewing their files should not find any surprises such as a supervisor’s note documenting suspicions of illegal drug use or other comments that are without merit.


If you have questions about personnel files, medical files or any other employee record, contact CAI’s Advice and Resolution Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.