Pay Attention To Your Personnel Records
In terms of safeguarding your rights as an employee in Wisconsin, it is hard to think of a more important law for day-to-day operations than that which protects your right to review and respond to any materials in your personnel records, maintained by your employer. Wis. Stats. § 103.13 allows you to look into your records at least twice annually, to photocopy any records (with a few notable exceptions), and to respond to any material in your personnel records that is inaccurate or negative in any way.
When it comes time for one of our members to face possible discipline, it is imperative that the attorney and business agent that will represent the employee have a complete personnel record for the affected employee. Wis. Stats.103.13(3) addresses the matter of an employee’s representative inspecting the employee’s records. We run into problems in defending an employee facing discipline when the employer has failed to maintain appropriate records, the employee has been less than diligent in paying attention to those records, or the employer refuses to disclose those records as required by the law.
Please note that thus far in this article the word “file” has not been mentioned. That is because the statute has nothing to say about files—it speaks only about records. Everything that you do, say, or write about records should reflect that distinction.
Having said that, we feel strongly that you should keep an organized set of the records that you copy from your employer during your periodic review. You should keep them at your home, in a safe place, rather than in your workplace. The mere fact that you—or your employer—uses file folders to organize your personnel records does not create a personnel “file” within the meaning of the statute. Wherever documents about you lie, there are your personnel records.
We suggest using the following sub-headings to organize your own records, but you are certainly free to expand on these suggestions and, for that matter, to add additional folders—in fact, you are encouraged to make your own records as comprehensive as possible. One can never have too much paperwork; however, one can certainly have too little.
Personnel Actions – (Payroll, etc.)
This is a sub-file into which you should put documents relating to changes in your personnel status: such things as pay increases, educational incentive increases, transfers, etc. Sometimes, it might be helpful to create your own records of a personnel action if there is nothing created by your employer.
It may seem to be self-explanatory as to what might well go into this sub-file, but also add such things as intra-departmental memos that talk about your performance, departmental statistics that indicate your level of performance, etc. You may find yourself in the position of drafting a memo for your own file noting an oral “evaluation” that you may have gotten from a supervisor.
Wis. Stats. 103.13 requires that medical information about you be kept confidential and be kept separate from your other personnel records. You, however, can keep all of your records together. In this file, too, you can keep information about your health, life, etc., insurance, including such things as beneficiaries, etc.
A file folder with this label might seem to be meant to contain obvious materials, but you can also profitably include such things as job vacancy postings, tests you have taken, some of the study materials you have used, letters of reference you have solicited or received during a promotional process, etc.
Training and Education, Transcripts/Certificates
It is surprising to see how many departments fail to maintain records of the training and education that their employees undergo. You should keep in your own files a copy of all of your training records—including copies of transcripts; certificates of completion; letter confirming attendance and completion of classes or courses; copies of diplomas; and specialized training evidence such as that for EVOC, FTO, DARE, Intoxilyzer, etc. Some of the copies that you can keep will not be the “official” documents showing proof of your education and training, but the ones that you keep will serve as reminders to you as to where one can obtain the official records. It is also a good idea to keep a current resume in this folder—as well as on your home computer.
In this area, you can keep all the official and unofficial commendations you receive. This is the place to keep so-called “attaboys” (regardless of your gender), citizen thank-you notes, and letters of appreciation from citizens and coworkers.
Just as it’s important to keep a record of the good stuff, it’s absolutely critical that you keep a record of everything negative. Letters, emails, and your own notes of conversations with your supervisor can be very important in the course of your representation.
This one seems self-explanatory.
Keeping your own personnel records will prove to be valuable for you in many ways over your career—from promotions, to job changes, to applications for additional schools, to any discipline that you may be unfortunate enough to experience. Please keep your own records current. In fact, while you’re thinking of it, take a moment to request—in writing—a review of your personnel records, and do it once or twice a year. You’ll be glad you did.
As always, if you have questions about this subject, seek assistance initially from your business agent. If there is a need for further assistance, your business agent can refer your situation to the WPPA Legal Department.