HARRISBURG, Pa. (CN) — A state law allowing employees to see their personnel files does not apply to people who have been fired, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled.
Writing for the unanimous court on June 20, Associate Justice David Wecht looked no farther than the dictionary to declare that the definition of “employees” did not include former employees.
Events in the case began on Aug. 9, 2013, when Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals fired Elizabeth Haubrich, a nurse anesthetist. One week later she asked to see her personnel file, under the state’s Personnel File Act. The hospital refused, so on Jan. 20. 2014, Haubrich filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s Bureau of Labor Law Compliance.
A Commonwealth Court ruled that the hospital had to show her the file, but the hospital appealed and the state supreme court reversed.
Although the state’s Inspection of Employment Records Law allows employees to see their personnel records, the key word in the law is “employees,” Wecht wrote for the court, and only a worker who is still employed by a company is its employee.
The Employment Records Law defines an employee as “any person currently employed, laid off with re-employment rights or on a leave of absence,” Wecht ruled.
“The commonly accepted understanding of being currently employed requires that a person be maintained in another’s service now, at the present time,” Wecht wrote.
He said that Haubrich and other fired workers could sue their former employers for wrongful termination if they believed they had been fired unjustly. Once they were let go, however, their former employers may keep their personnel records under lock and key.
The rest of the supreme court concurred.