Unread 12-03-2003, 01:31 AM
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Default access to personnel files

I have a question about who can have access to an employee's personnel file. My sister is a teacher at a Catholic school in Milwaukee. The school has a new principal this year who has never been an administrator before.

In October, in order for the school to prepare for an accreditation visit, all the teachers were told to review their own personnel files and check to make sure certain documents were there, and if they weren't there, to get them there. Not all of the teachers were able to do this by the end of the month. The review needs to be done by mid-December.

In November, at a staff meeting, one of the teachers passed out to each of the other teachers a checklist of the necessary documents--those documents that were missing from each teacher's file were checked off, even those teachers, like my sister, who had all ready checked their files. After some questioning, the principal admitted that this teacher had been allowed to look through all the personnel files and make up the checklist. "We thought it would be easier for you."

Needless to say, the other teachers are very upset that a colleague, who is a teacher and in no way part of the administration of the school, was allowed to review their files, which include performance reviews and observations of their teaching, among other things.

Does anyone know, or know where I can find out about, Wisconsin law on this? I don't know if the fact that the employer is a private religious school makes a difference.


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Unread 12-03-2003, 05:02 AM
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Default RE: access to personnel files

Here's the law. I skimmed it. It does not talk specifically about viewing other's files. But it explicitly states viewing your OWN file. Legal problem, maybe- penalties are minor. Morale problem, HUGE. This new principal has dug himself a big hole to start out in.
Covered Employers/Employees

employers Private and public are covered under Wisconsin’s law. Wisconsin’s law does not give employees or their representatives the right to inspect the following:

® Records relating to the investigation of possible criminal offenses committed by the employees.

® Letters of reference for the employees.

® Portions of test documents although employees may see cumulative test scores for a section of the test or the entire test.

® Materials used by employers for staff management planning, including judgments or recommendations concerning future salary increases and other wage treatments, management bonus plans, promotions, and job assignments or other comments or ratings used for the employers’ planning purposes.

® Personal information about a person other than the individual accessing the file if disclosure of the information would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

® Records relevant to any other pending claim between the employer and the employee that may be discovered in a judicial proceeding.

Employers’ Obligations/Employees’ Rights

Under Wisconsin’s law, employers must, upon request, permit employees to inspect their own personnel records within seven working days after making a request for inspection. Inspection is to take place at a location reasonably near the employee’s place of employment during normal working hours or at some other reasonable time that would not require an employee to take time off from work.

Employers must grant at least two requests by an employee in a year to view his or her personnel record unless otherwise provided in a collective bargaining agreement.

The right of employees or their representatives to inspect their records includes the right to copy or receive a copy of the records. The employer may charge a reasonable fee, not exceeding the actual cost of reproduction, for providing copies of the records.

Contested Information

If an employee disagrees with any information contained in the personnel records, a removal or correction of that information may be mutually agreed upon by the employer and the employee. If an agreement cannot be reached, the employee may submit a written statement explaining the situation. The employer must attach the employee’s statement to the disputed portion of the record. The employee’s statement must be included whenever that disputed portion of the personnel record is released to a third party as long as the disputed information is part of the file.


An employee who is involved in a grievance against an employer may designate in writing a representative of the employee’s union, collective bargaining unit, or other representative to inspect the employee’s personnel record which may have a bearing on the resolution of the grievance. The employer must allow the designated representative to inspect the employee’s personnel records in the same manner as provided the employee.

Medical Records

The right of the employee or the employee’s representative to inspect personnel records includes the right to inspect any personal medical records concerning the employee in the employer’s files. If the employer believes that disclosure of an employee’s medical records would have a detrimental effect on the employee, the employer may release the employee’s medical records to the employee’s physician, in which case the physician may release the records to the employee or the employee’s family.


An employee must give notice to the employer before the employee can inspect his or her personnel file.


Employers cannot discharge or otherwise discriminate against any individual because the individual files a complaint or attempts to enforce any right under Wisconsin’s provisions for access to personnel files. It is also unlawful for an employer to discharge or otherwise discriminate against an individual because the individual testifies or assists in any action or proceeding held under or to enforce any right under Wisconsin’s law concerning access to personnel files.


Employers violating Wisconsin’s access to personnel files law may be subject to a fine of not less than $10 or more than $100 for each violation. Each day of refusal or failure to comply with a duty is a separate violation

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Unread 12-03-2003, 07:44 AM
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Default RE: access to personnel files

I would never allow an EE to go through ALL of their own file....only what is mandated by our State law. As far as compliance goes, that's an HR function. The new Principal has got a lot to learn.
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Unread 12-08-2003, 04:07 AM
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Default RE: access to personnel files

Thanks for your help. I was hoping for some way to show this principal that she canít just do as she wants with employee records, but thatís the breaks. CroutóI was as surprised as you that the principal wanted each teacher to look at their own files, but clearly she just doesnít have a clue about how to run a school. Apparently she taught for one year about 20 years ago and has had no educational or supervisory experience since then.

The latest update: one of the other teachers was so upset by the incident that she went to the principal and demanded that all the teachers now be allowed to go through the personnel file of the one teacher who made up the checklists. This did not go over well, but it appears to have gotten the point across because the principal has now apologized to all the teachers. This was perhaps due to the fact that the teachers as a group were not happy with her appointment, and accepted her as principal with the condition that the teachers will review her performance in January, and can recommend whether or not her principalship should continue.

Then my sister went to the principal to tell her that she will need to take 5 or 6 days of sick time to care for our father after his hip replacement surgery in January. (Sis is in Wisconsin; Dad is in New Hampshire.) Entire staff is only 37 people, so no FLMA, but employee handbook clearly states that teachers can use their sick time to care for family members. There is no cap on sick time and my sister has accrued over 50 days. Principal says sister must use personal time only. School gives 2 days of personal time per school year. Sis shows her the handbook. Principal responds: "When is your father's surgery? I need to get the handbook changed before then."

Sis has been on the fence about leaving the school and getting a job in a public school, where she would get better pay and more benefits. Not any longer. I'm reviewing her resume this week.


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Unread 12-08-2003, 04:57 AM
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Default RE: access to personnel files

I probably have a little different view on this subject since I am in the public sector and most of my records are open to the public: Under Wisconsin law, as stated above, employees certainly do have a right to inspect their own personnel records. Since, apparently, some of the teachers weren't getting around to examining their own files in preparation for the accreditation visit, someone had to be assigned to go through the files to see that they were complete. The principal could have done it had he/she had the time, or, maybe better, the records required for the accreditation could be maintained in a separate file entirely. Instead, someone else was assigned or took on the task. As long as the medical records were maintained separately and the person who did the review maintained a degree of confidentiality, What's the complaint?

In a larger organization, the HR office or a similar function would have reviewed the files prior to the visit. Sounds like the teachers don't like the principal (with or without reason) and are looking for complaints.
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Unread 12-08-2003, 07:56 PM
Don D
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Default RE: access to personnel files

I was about to lambast the principal until I read Hunter1's reasoned response. I like his take on this.
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