Former Employees in PA are no Longer Entitled to Review their Personnel Files

Personnel FilesPennsylvania’s Supreme Court has recently ruled that former employees are not entitled to review their personnel files. In the Inspection of Employment Records Law (Act of 1978, No. 286), an employee is authorized to inspect certain information from his or her own personnel files maintained by the employer. The question is whether a recently terminated employee has the right to review these files. In the Act, an employee is defined as any person currently employed, laid off with reemployment rights or on leave of absence.  The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and later the Commonwealth Court interpreted “currently” employed as presently elapsing or most recent. For this reason, when terminated Elizabeth Haubrich, who worked for Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals (TJU), requested to view her file, the state department of labor granted her access.

In Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, Inc. v. Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, TJU petitioned the state’s Supreme Court to review the case that involved them and Haubrich. Haubrich was an employee that was discharged in 2013, and was not employed or reemployed by TJU, nor was she laid off with reemployment rights or on a leave of absence. Haubrich requested TJU access to inspect her personnel file, which was denied by TJU. Haubrich went ahead and filed a complaint with the state department of labor. The state department of labor ruled in favor of Haubrich by determining that any employee can file a claim while employed or within a reasonable time after leaving employment. So, the argument involved whether or not Haubrich should be considered an “employee” under the Inspection of Employment Records Law.

The Supreme Court held that the language of the Act only allows current employees, laid-off employees with re-employment rights and employees on leaves of absence to review their files. The Court determined that the language of the Act was clear and the Commonwealth Court improperly added language to the Act where it did not exist:

[w]here, as here, a statute is unclear or susceptible to different interpretations, courts will look to the principles of statutory construction to determine the legislative intent. In determining legislative intent, all sections of a statute must be ‘read together and in conjunction with each other, and construed with reference to the entire statute.’ Additionally, courts must attempt to give meaning to every word in a statute as we cannot assume that the legislature intended any words to be mere surplusage. Furthermore, courts must avoid construing a statute in such a way as would lead to an absurd result.

So, when a Pennsylvania employee is terminated, he or she no longer have a right to review their personnel files. Employers do not need to provide terminated employees access to their personnel files.