Can someone enlighten me as to the rules in VA for allowing employees access to their personnel files?
The information you are looking for is available on HR.BLR.com under the topic titled "Records." Subscribers to the web site can access the information in the legal analysis for the topic located at http://hr.blr.com/topics.aspx?topic=139. Virginia state law requires that public employees be given access to their personnel records and be permitted to obtain copies of the files. We are not aware of a similar law that requires private employers to provide similar access. However, medical records must be made available. For your convenience, the section on employee access to personnel records in Virginia found on HR.BLR.com is copied here:
State employees may have access and copying rights to their own personnel records (VA Code Sec. 2.1-342).
Employers must promptly provide former and current workers with information about their workplace exposures to toxic materials or harmful physical agents when employees are exposed to such substances at levels exceeding applicable safety and health standards. Employers must also inform exposed employees of any corrective actions being taken.
Employees must also be allowed access to any medical records held by employers. If a physician representing the employer believes a diagnosis could be detrimental to the employee's health, the employer may inform the worker that access will be provided only to a designated representative who has specific written consent.
Upon request, the employer must provide a copy of the medical record at no cost, make photocopying available to the worker at no cost, or loan the record for a reasonable time to be copied (VA Code Sec. 40.1-51.1; 16 VAC Sec. 25-80-20).
It appears that Virginia does not have a statute requiring private employers to grant employees access to their files. However, you will want to review company policy and past practice to make sure all employees are treated in a fair and consistent manner. A collective bargaining agreement might also have a provision related to access to personnel files, and government contractors should review their contract requirements. In addition, employers should pay careful attention to what is documented in a personnel file as this information would be subject to discovery in a any type of litigation or government investigation. Keep in mind that BLR does not provide legal advice. If you have questions about specific situations, it is a good idea to consult with local employment counsel.