FAQ: Personnel Records Law

Personnel Records Law

Q: What is the definition of “personnel record”?

A: The term “personnel record” is defined by Michigan law. Under the Bullard-Plawecki Employee Right to Know Act (MCLA 423.501 et. seq.), the term Personnel record “means a record kept by the employer that identifies the employee, to the extent that the record is used or has been used, or may affect or be used relative to that employee’s qualifications for employment, promotion, transfer, additional compensation, or disciplinary action.”

The definition of “personnel record” specifically excludes such documents as:

  • employee references if the identity of the person making the reference would be disclosed;
  • materials relating to the employer’s staff planning with respect to more than one employee (e.g., RIF plan, salary increases, management bonus plans, promotions, and job assignments);
  • medical reports and records made or obtained by the employer if the records or reports are available to the employee from the doctor or medical facility involved;
  • information of a personal nature about a person other than the employee if disclosure of the information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of the other person’s privacy;
  • certain information that is kept separately from other records and that relates to investigation by the employer into potential criminal activity of the employee;
  • educational records under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA); and
  • records kept in the sole possession of an executive, administrative or professional employee (e.g., a supervisor’s notes of a meeting).
Q: Is an employee entitled to review his/her personnel file?

A: Yes. Upon written request to U-M, an employee may review his or her personnel file and make photocopies of the documents contained therein. Questions about personnel files should be directed to Human Resources Records & Information Services, or to the appropriate Human Resources office (Staff HR, Academic HR, or Health System HR).

Q: Is the location of personnel documents relevant in determining whether they need to be disclosed when someone requests their “personnel file”?

A: No. The term personnel record is defined by law as explained above. We cannot exempt a document from disclosure merely by not placing it in a person’s department or central U-M personnel file. If a document falls within the definition of “personnel record,” which is quite broad, then it must be disclosed to the employee upon request, regardless of its physical location.

Q: Can anyone obtain a copy of my personnel file by making a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request?

A: Decisions in the Michigan Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme Court have limited the ability of U-M to protect information contained in personnel files from disclosure under FOIA. If disclosure is required by law, U-M will make all reasonable efforts to notify the employee as quickly as possible.

Q: How long must U-M retain a former employee’s personnel file?

A: SPG 201.46 describes the applicable retention policies.