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What to know about your personnel file

Q. My manager has just given me a pretty bad review, and said it will be put into my ­personnel file. I’d like to know what’s in my file already. I asked human resources and they seem to be stalling. Am I allowed to see this ­information?

A. The concept of a “permanent record” has worried students forever. The employee version can be found in the personnel file. Massachusetts has a personnel records law that gives you the right to see what is in your file. I consulted Margaret Paget, partner in the litigation department of Sherin and ­Lodgen LLP and cochair of the firm’s employment law group in Boston.

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These files, Paget said, must contain “all employee performance evaluations, including but not limited to, employee evaluation documents; written warnings of substandard ­performance; lists of probationary periods; waivers signed by the employee; copies of ­dated termination notices; and any other documents relating to disciplinary action.” The statute does not require ­employers with fewer than 20 employees to include all of this information.

You are entitled to review your personnel record when you receive notice that your employer has added information “that is, has been used, or may be used to negatively affect [your] qualification for employment, promotion, transfer, additional compensation, or the possibility that [you] will be subject to disciplinary action.” In addition, you have the right to review and receive a copy of your personnel record up to twice each year. Your employer has up to five business days following a written ­request to provide that to you.

If you disagree with information in your personnel record, you may request that it be removed or corrected. If your employer does not agree, you may submit a written statement explaining your position and the information you want to correct. By law, that statement becomes part of your ­permanent personnel record.

Your goal as an employee is to prevent anything from ­getting to this point. Keep the lines of communication open before a manager feels the need for negative documentation.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners ­International.
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