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Important Changes in the Massachusetts Personnel Records Law

Governor Patrick recently signed into a law a bill entitled, An Act Relative To Economic Development Reorganization. Buried in this bill is a provision that amends the Massachusetts personnel records law, M.G.L. c. 149, § 52C.

Prior to the amendment, the statute simply required employers to provide an employee with access to his/her “personnel records” and broadly defined the type of documents that qualify as such records.

The new amendment requires that employers must notify an employee within ten days of placing into the personnel record information that “may negatively affect the employee’s qualification for employment, promotion, transfer, additional compensation or the possibility that the employee will be subject to disciplinary action.”

Because so much material could potentially fall within the scope of the new requirement – for instance an email from one supervisor to another that criticizes a subordinate’s work product – the amendment could have a significant impact on employment practices. Because this amendment is so new, however, it remains to be seen how the requirement will be interpreted and enforced. Clearly employers must notify employees about negative performance evaluations or warnings regarding the employee’s performance or conduct.

The amendment also gives employers the right to limit to two the number of times that an employee may review his/her personnel file in a calendar year. However, notification and review “caused by the placing of negative information in the personnel record” cannot be counted against the limit.

The Attorney General is responsible for enforcing this statute and can seek fines of $500 to $2,500 per violation.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Alan S. Miller at Stoneman, Chandler & Miller.