Can employees see their personnel file?

Can Employees See Their personnel File?

We were recently asked ‘can an employee see their personnel file’. This is a really important question and it’s crucial that all businesses know the answer to this. In addition, we will answer this once and for all in this article.


In short, yes, employees in the UK have the right to request access to their HR file, also known as a personnel file or employment record.


General Data Protection Regulation

Under UK GDPR rules (General Data Protection Regulation) that became law in 2016, an employee is entitled to submit a request for access to any personal data about them. GDPR sets clear guidelines on the protection of personal data held on a filing system as well as data collected online. As an employer, you must comply if anyone requests a copy of the personal data you have. 




What is a personnel file?


A personnel file, also known as an employee file or employment record, is a collection of documents that an employer maintains about an individual employee. The HR file typically contains personal and professional information about the employee, such as their name, address, employment contract, job title, salary, and performance reviews.


Other documents that may be included:


  • Job application and resume
  • Offer of employment
  • Background check and references
  • Training and development records
  • Disciplinary actions and grievances
  • Attendance and leave records
  • Health and safety information
  • Tax and payroll information


The purpose of a personnel file is to keep a record of an employee’s employment history and performance, as well as to document any significant incidents or events that occur during their employment.






There are some exceptions to an employee’s right of access to their HR file. One exception to the employer’s duty to disclose personal data is where the information requested is for the purpose of management forecasting or management planning, and where disclosure could prejudice the employer’s interests.


Another main exception is where disclosure of the information would reveal personal information about a third party who can be identified from the information. In this case, the employer may not automatically refuse to disclose the information in the personnel file.


This could include a reference from a previous employer.  Instead, the employer should seek either to edit the relevant documents in order to conceal the identity of the third party or, if this is not possible, to seek his or her consent to the disclosure of the information.



The employer should also disclose the data if it would be reasonable in all the circumstances to do so without the consent of the third party. What is reasonable will depend on the duty of confidentiality owed to the third party, any steps that the employer has taken to seek his or her consent and whether the third party is capable of giving consent or has expressly refused consent.



Responding to HR file requests


Under GDPR rules, you must respond to any requests for a personnel file promptly and within one month. However, if the request has complications such as third parties, you can extent the response time to three months.


Here are the steps you can follow to respond to a request: 


  • Acknowledge the request: The first step is to acknowledge the employee’s request and confirm that you have received it. This can be done via email or letter, and should include a reference number for the request.


  • Verify the identity of the employee: Before providing access to the personnel file, you need to verify the identity of the employee to ensure that you are providing the information to the correct person. You can ask the employee to provide proof of identity, such as a passport or driver’s license.


  • Compile the HR file: Once you have verified the employee’s identity, you should compile the relevant document and review it to ensure that it does not contain any information that is exempt from disclosure under GDPR. If there is any information that is exempt, you must provide a reason for the exemption.


  • Provide the personnel file: If the document is ready to be provided, you can send a copy to the employee. You can provide a hard copy or electronic copy, depending on the employee’s preference. You may also want to provide a summary of the information in the file to help the employee understand the contents.


  • Respond to any follow-up questions: If the employee has any follow-up questions or concerns about the information in their HR file, you should respond to them promptly and address any issues that arise.


It’s important to note that employees have the right to request corrections to any inaccurate information in their personnel file. If the employee believes that any information in the file is incorrect or misleading, they can request that it be corrected or deleted.




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Overall, employees in the UK have a legal right to access their HR file. Therefore, employers are obliged to provide this information within a reasonable timeframe. If you have any further questions or are still asking can employees see their personnel file?, please get in touch.

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