Pay Attention To Your Personnel Records —— Please!
By Gordon E. McQuillen, WPPA Director of Legal Services
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. That law 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. Wis. Stats. § 103.13 is reproduced in its entirety following the text of this article. In addition, there is a longer article related to your rights under this statute elsewhere in this magazine, authored by Attorney Kira Loehr.
When it comes time for one of our members to face possible discipline, it is invaluable for attorneys or business agents who will represent the employee to have a complete personnel record for the affected employee. As noted in Attorney Loehr’s article, Wis. Stats § 103.13(3) addresses the matter of an employee’s representative inspecting the employee’s records. Where we run into problems in defending an employee facing discipline is 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, please note that in this magazine you will find, perhaps seemingly in contradiction to that cautionary statement, a set of pre-printed file-folder tab labels that you can use to create and organize your own at-home version of your personnel records. 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.
The enclosed file labels bear the eight captions, which are intended to be used as described in the comment following each, although 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. Here are suggestions for using each of the files which you create, using the enclosed labels:
PERSONNEL RECORDS –
Use this large print label to identify the outer folder that will hold the following sub-files – and any others that you can think of.
Personnel Actions –
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. Once again, 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.
Medical/Workers Comp. –
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 that you have taken, some of the study materials that you have used, letters of reference that you have solicited or received during a promotional process, etc.
Training and Education –
It always amazes me when I am doing discipline cases 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, 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 not a bad idea, too, to keep a current resume in this folder, as well as on your home computer (if you have one).
Commendations, etc. –
In this area, you can keep all the official and unofficial commendations that you receive. This is the place to keep so-called “attaboys” (regardless of your gender), citizen thank you notes, letters of appreciation from citizens, etc.
Okay, this one is self-explanatory.
Keeping your own personnel records will prove to be valuable for you in many ways over your career, from promotions, to applications for additional schools or promotions, to any discipline that you may be unfortunate enough to experience. Please keep your own records current and, especially for those of you who are later on in your careers, encourage officers with fewer years on to maintain their own records from the outset of their employment in law enforcement.
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 in Madison.