Under Wisconsin law, employers don’t have to keep individual personnel files. But if they do, employees – current and former – may inspect their records at least twice a year.
These records apply to qualifications related to employment, promotion, compensation, termination and other disciplinary action.
“When I’m asked by employers what they should keep in personnel files, I say Wisconsin doesn’t require specific personnel files at all,” said attorney Ellen Frantz. “But I suggest they keep certain things in personnel files so they have good documentation if a problem arises.”
Among her suggestions are:
- Application forms and related materials
- Copies of employee evaluations
- Contract if the employee has an individual employment contract
- Disciplinary actions
“Small businesses may or may not have a system for evaluation or discipline,” Frantz said. “But in today’s world, most employers should have.”
Frantz recommends maintaining additional records outside the official personnel file. The additional file may be used to store medical records, I-9 immigration verification forms, wage and hour records and other records that may be needed in case of a government audit.
Requests to view the personnel file may be required to be in writing, after which the employer has seven days to comply. Copies of the file must be provided at a reasonable cost – no more than the actual expense.
Some items may be withheld, however, including:
- Records related to possible criminal offenses against the worker.
- Letters of reference for that employee.
- A test document other than the cumulative score for a section or the entire test.
- Materials used for staff planning.
- Information of a personal nature that would invade another’s privacy.
- Records relevant to a pending claim between employer and employee.
If as an employee you inspect the records and find an error(s), you should bring it to the attention of the employer for correction, removal or with an attached explanation about the disputed item.
Failure to provide access to personnel records would be subject to a fine of $10 a day for each day of violation. “The penalty is small, but can add up,” Frantz said.
Article by Ellen Frantz, La Crosse Employment Law Attorney. For an employment lawyer in La Crosse WI, call 608-784-5678.