ARGUED: March 7, 2017.
from the Order of Commonwealth Court entered on 01/06/2016 at
No. 2275 CD 2014 affirming the Order entered on 11 /17/2014
of the Department of Labor, at No. 2014-02 and the 02/17/2016
Order Denying the Application for Reargument.
SAYLOR, C.J., BAER, TODD, DONOHUE, DOUGHERTY, WECHT, MUNDY,
appeal, we consider whether a recently terminated employee is
an "employee" and, thus, entitled to inspect her
personnel file, according to the Inspection of Employment
Records Law (hereinafter "the Personnel Files Act"
or "the Act"), 43 P.S. §§ 1321-24.
Because we conclude that the Act's definition of
"employee" excludes former employees, we hold that
a terminated employee is precluded from inspecting her file.
We reverse the contrary holding of the Commonwealth Court.
heart of this case is the Personnel Files Act's
definition of "employee, " which is as follows:
Any person currently employed, laid off with reemployment
rights or on leave of absence. The term 'employee'
shall not include applicants for employment or any other
43 P.S. § 1321. The Act further provides:
An employer shall, at reasonable times, upon request of an
employee, permit that employee or an agent designated by the
employee to inspect his or her own personnel files used to
determine his or her own qualifications for employment,
promotion, additional compensation, termination or
disciplinary action ....
43 P.S. § 1322.
Beitman v. Dep't of Labor & Indus., 675 A.2d
1300 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1996), the Commonwealth Court, sitting
en banc, considered whether the Personnel Files Act
allowed a former employee to access her file. In that case,
an employee who had been terminated over two years earlier
requested access to her personnel file pursuant to section
1322. The employer denied her request, citing the Act's
definition of employee. The Department of Labor and
Industry's Bureau of Labor Law Compliance
("Department") upheld that decision.
employee appealed to the Commonwealth Court, arguing that,
because section 1322 permits inspection by an employee
"to determine his or her own qualifications for . . .
termination or disciplinary action, " 43 P.S. §
1322, the General Assembly must have intended for terminated
employees to be covered by the Act. The employee further
asserted that to interpret the Act any other way would render
the phrase "termination or disciplinary action"
Commonwealth Court majority ultimately agreed with the
Department and held that the former employee was not
permitted to access her file. However, the majority confined
its holding to the specific facts of the case, explaining
that it did "not interpret the phrase 'currently
employed' in [s]ection  so stringently as to
prohibit an individual from obtaining his or her personnel
file when such request is made contemporaneously with
termination or within a reasonable time immediately following
termination." Beitman, 675 A.2d at 1302 (emphasis
judges dissented, opining that the Act did not clearly and
unambiguously exclude former employees from the definition of
employee. See Beitman, 675 A.2d at 1303 (Friedman,
J., dissenting). The dissent reasoned that the exclusion of
"any other person" under section 1321 more likely
was intended to exclude individuals who had never been
employees rather than those that had at one time been
employed, especially considering the use of the word
"termination" in section 1322. The dissent
concluded that section 1321 was ambiguous when read along
with section 1322, because section 1322 allows employees to
view their personnel files to ascertain the reason for their
termination. In the dissent's view, if
"employee" excluded terminated employees, the
language in section 1322 would be meaningless. The dissent
rejected the majority's suggestion that employees could
obtain their files contemporaneously with termination or
immediately thereafter. Such a reading, the dissent opined,
was at odds with what the majority stated was the plain and
unambiguous language of the Act. The dissent suggested that
the majority could not have it both ways. See
Beitman, 675 A.2d at 1304 n.4 (Friedman, J., dissenting)
("Following the Majority's rationale, if section
 defines an "employee" to exclude former
employees, then section , which defines the rights of
"employees" under the Act, cannot, by definition,
afford any protection to former employees, no matter how
recent their termination.").
dissent's view, the point in time at which an
employee's rights are most in jeopardy is at termination,
and most terminations do not come with advance notice. The
dissent found it unreasonable to conclude that the General
Assembly would have intended to exclude terminated employees
from the protections of the Act. Accordingly, the dissent
would have held that the Act's definition of employee
includes former employees who were terminated prior to
requesting to view their files.
Beitman, the Department developed a policy that
allows former employees to access their files if they make
the request within a reasonable time. The Department
generally has defined a reasonable time as approximately
thirty days after termination. See Appellant's
Br. at 31 ("In at least thirty cases . . . since the
Beitman decision ... the Department [has] held that
'currently employed' could encompass persons who
requested their personnel files seventeen, nineteen,
twenty-three, and twenty-four days after their employment
ended[, ] but not persons who requested their files
thirty-two, thirty-four, thirty-six, forty-two, or forty-five
days after termination.") (emphasis in original).
Beitman decision, and the Department's
application of that decision, form the ...