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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Clarifies Definition of “Current Employee” for the Purposes of Personnel Records Inspection

June 22, 2017
Emily E. Mahler
Posted in: Labor & Employment

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently clarified the definition of “current employee” for the purposes of the Pennsylvania Inspection of Employment Records Law, 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1321 et seq., holding that the a recently terminated employee was not entitled to inspect her personnel file under the law because she was not “currently employed.”

In the matter of Thomas Jefferson University v. Department of Labor & Industry, the former employee was terminated from employment with the University Hospital on August 9, 2013.  One week later, she filed a request to view her personnel file, which was denied by the hospital on the basis that she was no longer an employee.  The Department of Labor granted the request to inspect the records under the Inspection of Employment Records Law, on the basis that she had requested her file within a reasonable time after the termination.  The Commonwealth Court affirmed the Department’s Order, concluding that, despite her termination a week earlier, Ms. Haubrich was an employee for the purposes of the Act at the time of her request on August 16, 2013.

The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, per the plain terms of the Act, former employees have no right to access their personnel files, regardless of how quickly following the termination they request to do so.  The Court noted the Act’s unambiguous definition of employees to include only those “currently employed, laid off with reemployment rights or on a leave of absence, and that the Act expressly excludes “any other person,” which the Court held “necessarily encompasses a person who was recently terminated.”  The Court noted that no ambiguity existed in the language of the Act which would include former employees, and further noted the commonly accepted understanding of being “currently employed” requires that a person “be maintained in another’s service now, at the present time.”

This decision removes any ambiguity as to when a former employee’s right to inspect their personnel file under the Act expires.  With this ruling, once an employee is terminated from employment, their right to inspect their personnel file under the Act is also terminated, and the employer is under no obligation to allow the employee to access their file.