Wednesday, August 3, 2016

PA Supreme Court to analyze definition of "current employee" under Personnel File Act

This is not a huge issue, but it's one that comes up very frequently in Pennsylvania employment law practice. The Pennsylvania Personnel File Act (43 P.S. s 1321, et seq.) requires employers to allow "employee[s]" to inspect their personnel files. It's a short statute, and very short on details. One quirky thing about it is that it defines "employee" as "Any person currently employed" (and a few other scenarios for people on temporary leave).

So, what happens when an employer fires an employee (or the employee quits) and then the employee wants to review his or her personnel file? I mean, technically that person is not "currently" an employee and therefore not covered by statute, right? Not so fast! The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania recently held (citing past precedent/arguably dicta) that the statute affords employee's a right to inspect their personnel files for "a reasonable time immediately following termination." Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals v. PA DLI.

Now, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has granted a petition for appeal to address the issue:
Whether the Pennsylvania Personnel File Act [43 P.S. §§1321-24]’s definition of “current employee” means former employee, as was held by the Commonwealth Court in this case when it erroneously relied on nonprecedential dicta in an earlier Commonwealth Court decision (Beitman v. Dep’t. of Labor & Indus., 675 A.2d 1300 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1996))?
I suspect that employees will receive some allowance for post-termination review, but I guess we'll wait and see. I believe the actual case involves a request a mere one week following termination. It would be nice if the PA Supreme Court gave us a nice bright-line rule (like "2 weeks good, more than 2 weeks bad"), but that may be beyond the scope of review.