Know Your Rights: Personnel Files

by Debra Bergen and Ted Gottesman

From the PSC Clarion: A Publication of the Professional Staff Congress/City University of New York

This article is the second in a series about your rights and benefits under the 1996-2000 PSC collective bargaining agreement and how to protect those rights if you believe they have been violated by management. Future articles will cover the contract's provisions in such areas as professional evaluation, annual observations, a denial of reappointment with or without tenure or a Certificate of Continuous Administrative Service, leaves and holidays, personnel files and promotional opportunities.

Professor Jones, preparing for her upcoming consideration for tenure, makes an appointment to review her personnel file at the college. She discovers that the file contains letters of complaint from students that were placed in the file without her knowledge. Is this grieveable?

Yes it is. Prof. Jones's rights under Article 19 of the PSC collective bargaining agreement have been violated.

Article 19 provides for two types of personnel files-a personal file and an administration file. Knowing your rights under Article 19 can protect you against an adverse employment decision.

The contract provides you with the right to examine your personal personnel file upon request. When was the last time you looked at it? If the committee responsible for making a decision on appointment, reappointment or promotion examines your file and finds material that has been placed in it without your having had the opportunity to read and respond to the document, the committee's view of your professional performance may then be skewed against you.

The contract also lists the materials that may be placed in the personal file and the procedures that management must follow before doing so. Article 19 describes the steps to take should you want a document placed in the file.

The second personnel file maintained by the college, the administration file, under the contract may contain only materials requested by another unit of the university (other than your home campus) or documents which you may have supplied to the college in connection with your employment, promotion or tenure. The administration file is not available to the individual employee but only to committees and individuals responsible for employment decisions such as appointment, reappointment or promotion.

Article 19 prohibits the placement of material of any kind in your personal personnel file until you have been provided with an opportunity to read its contents and attach any comments you desire. Initialing the document does not indicate that the employee approves or agrees with the contents of the document. If the employee refuses to initial any document after having had the opportunity to read it, a statement to that effect should be put on the document before it is put into the personal file.

Article 19 provides for tenured and certificated full-time members of the instructional staff to examine and initial their personal file before the end of the fall semester. For non-tenured and non-certificated full-time members of the instructional staff, the contract provides that the personal file be examined and initialed before the end of each academic year. However, to ensure that your personal file is up-to-date and that you have been provided with an opportunity to read the contents of all documents in the file and respond appropriately, grievance counselors recommend the following:

Check your personal file at the beginning and end of each semester. When checking the contents of the file make a list of all the documents contained and the date you discovered the document in the file. Be sure that you have been shown each document and given an opportunity to initial it before it is placed in the file.

From time to time, you may receive a document that you wish to have included in the file. Submit a copy to the person responsible for file maintenance. Put the original in the file that you keep at home.

You should rebut any negative documents that are placed in the file at the time they are placed there. Before responding to a negative document, such as an unsatisfactory annual evaluation, you should consult with a PSC grievance counselor.

If you review your file and discover documents that were placed there without your knowledge, whether positive or negative, you should contact a grievance counselor immediately.

If you have questions on this article, or any other aspect of the contract, please call the PSC at 212/354-1252. We are happy to answer any questions that you may have concerning your terms and conditions of employment. If you are unable to contact your chapter representative, grievance counselors are available at the PSC central office five days a week to answer your questions and to represent you in a grievance hearing if needed.


Debra Bergen is PSC director of contract administration. Ted Gottesman is a PSC central office grievance counselor.

For further information please call the PSC office between 9:00 a..m. and 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday at 212/354-1252, or email comments and questions to cage.psc@worldnet.att.net. Thank you for reading the Clarion!

Posted on December 19, 1999; All rights reserved, Professional Staff Congress/CUNY.