What is proper security for personnel files?

My employer keeps all of his employees’ personnel files in a filing cabinet close to the front door of the building. Any employee can go through the filing cabinet if need be to get things because they also use it for storage. They never lock it. The personnel files of each employee includes Social Security numbers, medical testing — everything about each employee. My concern is, this information can be abused by a passerby or a crooked employee. Is there anything I can do or say to stop this?

Posted  12-14-2011

Ann Kiernan replies:

Yes! Tell your boss that he is violating federal law by comingling medical information with personnel information, and for not keeping medical files in a separate, secure, location.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that employers keep medical records confidential and separate from other personnel records. This information may be revealed only to safety and first aid workers, if necessary to treat the employee or provide for emergency evacuation. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) imposes privacy obligations on many employers who provide group health plans. Under HIPAA, employers are required to protect the privacy of employees’ personal health-related information by designating an in-house privacy official, adopting policies and procedures to keep this information private, and notifying employees of their privacy rights, among other things. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) also requires employers to keep employee medical records confidential.

In addition, some state laws also provide special protections for employee medical records. These laws limit the way such records can be used or the people who can view them. And, leaving Social Security numbers where anyone can look at them is an invitation to fraud or identity theft.

Good luck with getting the filing situation sorted out.


Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.


About the Author:

Ann Kiernan has litigated claims of wrongful discharge and discrimination before state and federal courts and administrative matters before the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, representing both employers and employees. Ms. Kiernan co-hosted The Employee Rights Forum, a weekly radio call-in show reaching up to a half-million listeners in the New York metropolitan area, and her articles on employment law have been published in many books and magazines. Both as a firm partner and as a director, Ms. Kiernan gained solid experience in management and human resources compliance. She has worked with Fair Measures since 1997.