WHAT IS A PERSONNEL FILE?
“Personnel file” means any employment-related or personal information gathered by an employer. (G.S. 126-22).
Employment-related information contained in a personnel file includes information related to an individual’s application, selection, promotion, demotion, transfer, leave, salary, contract for employment, benefits, suspension, performance evaluation, disciplinary actions, and termination.
Personal information contained in a personnel file includes an individual’s home address, Social Security Number, medical history, personal financial data, marital status, dependents, and beneficiaries.
Information can be a part of the “personnel file” even if it is not included in the supervisor’s file folder labeled “personnel file.” It’s the content of the information, not the form or location that matters for determining the scope of the file.
CONFIDENTIALITY OF PERSONNEL FILES
Under G.S. 126-22, personnel file information is confidential. It is not public record. Any University official who wrongly divulges information from an employee’s file or one who examines information in that file without authority is guilty of a criminal misdemeanor. G.S. 126-27 and 126-28.
However, G.S. 126-23 does allow some employee information to remain open to the public. The following information is public information and must be open to inspection:
- Date of original employment or appointment to State service
- Terms of any employment contract by which the employee is employed whether written or oral, past and current, to the extent that the employing agency has the written contract or a record of the oral contract in its possession
- Current position
- Current salary (“salary” for purposes of personnel file information available to the public includes pay, benefits, incentives, bonuses, and deferred and all other forms of compensation paid by the employing entity). Accrued leave balances are considered part of an employee’s compensation. See NC Attorney General’s advisory opinion.
- Date and amount of each increase or decrease in salary with that department, agency, institution, commission, or bureau.
- Date and type of each promotion, demotion, transfer, suspension, separation, or other change in position classification with that department, agency, institution, commission or bureau.
- Date and general description of the reasons for each promotion with that department, agency, institution, commission or bureau.
- Date and type of each dismissal, suspension, or demotion for disciplinary reasons taken by the department, agency, institution, commission, or bureau. If the disciplinary action was a dismissal, a copy of the written notice of the final decision of the head of the department setting forth the specific acts or omissions that are the basis of the dismissal.
- The office or station to which the employee is currently assigned.
When considering whether particular personnel information is public information, there are a few key points to keep in mind:
- The foregoing information is public only with respect to employees - not applicants. The identity of persons who are applying for a position remains confidential in perpetuity.
- By interpretation, external activity for pay (outside consulting) forms are public records. Conflict of interest forms are confidential.
- Letters from external reviewers solicited for promotion and tenure review are part of the employee’s personnel file and may be viewed by the employee. Pre-employment letters of reference, i.e., those solicited prior to employment, are not available to the employee.
Any employee that receives a request for personnel information, including information that is available to the public, should always refer the request to the Office of General Counsel.
WHAT DOCUMENTS ARE COMMONLY MAINTAINED IN A PERSONNEL FILE?
Documents that comprise a personnel file include:
- Materials relating to the employee’s application and appointment (e.g., letters of reference (other than those solicited prior to appointment), curriculum vita, verification of degree, application forms, correspondence concerning the application)
- Offer and acceptance letters
- Annual performance evaluations
- Notifications of salary adjustments
- Employee work plans
- Documents related to disciplinary action
- Annual Faculty Activity Reports
- Statements of Mutual Expectations
- Plans for Professional Development
- Post-tenure review materials, including assessments and numerical results of the vote
- Scholarly Assignment Off Campus reports
- RPT dossier and final results (original to be transferred to HR and copy to be maintained by the Department)
- Teaching Evaluations from students and peers
- Tenure Clock Extensions
- Requests for Leave and accrued balances
- Dual of Secondary Employment forms
- Notice of Intent to Engage in Professional Activities for Pay
- Conflict of Interest forms
HOW SHOULD I MANAGE A PERSONNEL FILE?
Storage: Supervisors (including deans and department heads) should secure personnel files so that only authorized access is permitted. Personnel files should be maintained in one location unless the supervisor chooses to maintain personnel file documents in various locations. If files are maintained in various locations, a directory of the various categories of required personnel files should be maintained to facilitate easy and quick access to the files.
Hard copies of personnel files should be stored in a secure and locked file cabinet in a secure location with proper access restrictions.
If the supervisor elects to store personnel files electronically, such files should be maintained with appropriate network security, proper access restrictions, and regular data backup. Electronic files that are made available to authorized University committees for purposes of performance review or to an employee should be in a format that prohibits unauthorized modification of the personnel information. It is expected that the supervisor (or designee) will be responsible for determining appropriate categories and security levels for electronic folders containing confidential personnel files and for creating new folders as necessary to ensure that only authorized individuals have access to the files.
Review of a Personnel File: If an employee requests access to her personnel file that is maintained in hard copy, the supervisor or her designee should be present during the employee’s review of the file.
If someone other than the employee requests personnel data, the request should always be referred to the Office of General Counsel. A supervisor must create a log that tracks the public disclosure of personnel file information. The log must include the following information, correlating with each request to view personnel file information: the name of employee, the information disclosed, the information requested, and the name and address of the person to whom the disclosure is made. This requirement does not apply to disclosures related to a credit check. Upon request, the log of disclosures shall be made available to the employee to whom it pertains.
HOW DO I TRANSFER OR DISPOSE OF A PERSONNEL FILE?
The University’s Records Retention and Disposition Schedule governs the retention and disposition of personnel files.
An employee’s personnel file must be maintained in the department in which the employee is employed, or, in the case of a faculty member, the academic department in which the faculty member appointment resides. The department should maintain a personnel file for each employee so long as the employee works in the department.
At the time of an employee’s separation or termination from service, the employee’s personnel file becomes inactive and the employee’s supervisor should transfer the personnel file to Human Resources for retention and disposition in accordance with the University’s Records Retention and Disposition Schedule. If the employee transfers to another department or college of the University, the supervisor should transfer the personnel file to the new academic department.
WHO MAY REVIEW PERSONNEL FILES?
Only certain individuals may examine an employee’s entire personnel file. Only the following people, by statute (G.S. 126-24), may inspect an employee’s personnel file:
- The employee himself/herself (except that the employee may not look at pre-employment letters of reference or certain medical information) or the employee’s properly authorized agent
- The employee’s supervisors
- Members of the General Assembly under certain circumstances
- Anyone with a court order that allows them access to the files
- An official of the state or federal government as long as (1) the employee’s supervisor decides to allow access, and (2) the official’s purpose is not to assist a criminal prosecution of tax investigation.
HOW DO I REVIEW MY PERSONNEL FILE?
An employee who would like to review her personnel file should submit a request to her supervisor or to Human Resources. A request to view your HR file should be directed to the Director of HR Information Management (HRIM). In the case of a faculty member, the request should be directed to the faculty member’s department head. When an employee requests to view her personnel file, she should specify whether she would like to review only the information maintained by the supervisor or her entire personnel file stored throughout the University, and should specify the types of documents sought. She should also specify whether she would like to simply review the documents or would like a copy of the documents. The University will provide one copy to an employee free of charge.
PROTECTING EMPLOYEE INFORMATION WHEN THE RELEASE OF INFORMATION MIGHT BE A THREAT TO THE EMPLOYEE
In a 1991 case, the North Carolina Court of Appeals said that UNC- Chapel Hill did not have to release the names of researchers who were conducting animal testing. Although the research information was found to be a public record, the names of the researchers did not have to be disclosed. Thus, in limited circumstances where there could be a threat to employees, including a threat of harassment, North Carolina courts may allow the University to keep the names of employees confidential.
If you believe that releasing public information about an employee might create a possibly threatening situation for that employee, always contact the Office of General Counsel prior to the release of the information.
HOW TO CORRECT OR REMOVE PERSONNEL INFORMATION
An employee, former employee, or applicant has the right to seek removal of information in his personnel file that he believes to be inaccurate or misleading. G.S. 126-25. If the information is not removed, the employee may file a grievance under the applicable University grievance procedure, asking for removal. The employee may also place a statement in his file regarding the material he believes to be inaccurate or misleading.
SUBMITTING FALSE INFORMATIONAny employee who gives false or misleading information either on an application or otherwise concerning their employment may be disciplined by the University, up to and including losing their job. In cases where an employee gives false information as to the job qualifications they possess, that employee should automatically be dismissed. G.S. 126-30(a).