One of the departments that HR works closely with is payroll. In my career, I’ve had jobs where I was directly responsibility for payroll and in others, I wasn’t. Either way, HR and accounting need to partner so employees aren’t confused. Like in today’s reader note.
I live in Ohio. My company uses a website to ‘give’ employees electronic access to their paycheck stubs, rather than issue paper. Since being hired, I’ve complained several times that the system doesn’t recognize me, and I can’t see my paycheck stubs.
Recently, I was given the choice of being terminated or resigning of my own free will. I walked. But, I still cannot access my past paycheck stubs. I fear that I will need them in the future months to show employment, for tax purposes, etc. Do I have any legal ‘right’ to these and does the company have to give me access, even if it’s in the form of paper copies?
No one in the payroll office seems willing or able to assist. I want to write a letter, but I need to know if I have any legal leg to stand on via either Ohio or federal law in case they say ‘Well, we can’t help it your password and remote access doesn’t work. Tough luck.’ Hoping you can help, because Google has been zero help in this!
To help us understand more about accessing payroll records, I asked our friends at Foley & Lardner LLP if they could help and thankfully they said “yes”. Archana A. Manwani is senior associate with the firm based in Los Angeles, California and advises clients on a wide array of personnel-related matters including employee discipline, wage and hour, and disability accommodation.
I know you guys already know this, but please remember that Archana has a regular full-time job as a lawyer and she’s doing this to give back to the profession. Her comments should not be construed as legal advice or as pertaining to any specific factual situations. If you have detailed questions, you should address them directly with your friendly neighborhood labor and employment attorney.
Archana, in this scenario, the reader is asking about payroll records. Are payroll records governed by state law or federal law?
[Manwani] There is no federal law requiring that private employers provide their employees with access to their payroll records. However, many states have their own laws that do require such access. Employees can review their state’s agency websites to get more information. For example, the state of California has an agency called the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement that addresses wage and hour issues, and a simple search on their website provides information regarding pay stub access.
I could see a lot of companies, in an effort to save paper, giving employees electronic access to their payroll records. Does the law address at all the company’s obligation to provide employees with access to their payroll information?
[Manwani] This varies state by state. Many states have laws that require the employer to grant their employees access to payroll information. For example, California has a specific statute (Labor Code Section 226(b)) that requires employers to permit both current and former employees to inspect and obtain copies of their payroll records. The California law imposes a penalty if the employer does not comply with an employee’s request within a certain period of time, so it is important to confirm if one of these state laws applies to you.
This might sound like we’re splitting hairs, but if an organization has an electronic payroll system (like the one described in the reader note), do they have an obligation to provide paper copies to employees upon request? Why or why not?
[Manwani] This is a common question and again, will depend on whether the employee is in a state that legally requires access to records. If the state does not require such access, then the employer will not have an obligation to provide the employee with paper records.
If the state does require such access, like California, then the employer has to ensure that the employee can access and obtain the records. If an employer’s system provides the employee with electronic access and the employee can readily log on and access his or her pay record (either on the internal system or as a PDF), then it is unlikely that the state law will also require the employer to provide paper copies. If, however, the employer’s system does not provide easy access – like the scenario described in the reader note – then the law will most likely require that the employer provide paper copies to the employee upon request, as the electronic system is not complying with the requirement to give employees access to their pay records.
Let’s say for a moment that the company doesn’t have an electronic system. If an employee loses their paycheck stub and wants to get a copy from the company, is the company obligated to provide it? And out of curiosity, can they charge employees for duplicate copies?
[Manwani] This again will depend on whether the employee works in a state that requires employees to have access to their records. For example, in California, the company would be obligated to provide the records within 21 days of the employee’s request.
Whether or not the employer can charge for these records will also depend on whether there is a state law permitting the employer to do so. Some states, like California, have laws that explicitly permit the employer to charge for copies of personnel files but do not have laws that explicitly permit the employer to charge for copies of payroll records, and it would therefore be best practice to not charge the employee for a duplicate copy of his/her pay stub. As many employees have personal emails and computer access, an employer that is trying to reduce paper costs could offer to send the employee electronic scans (or PDFs) of the paystubs in order to avoid duplicate paper copies. The state agency websites should have information regarding whether employers may recover the costs of providing copies.
Last question, this reader mentioned “Googling” for information about this situation. What suggestions would you give to an employee who is trying to find out information about employment matters using the internet?
[Manwani] The internet can be a great resource, but it can also be a source of a lot of incorrect information! If an employee is trying to search for information online, it would be best to visit verified websites – such as state agency sites, law firm websites, or human resource forums like HR Bartender or the Society for Human Resource (SHRM) website – rather than personal blogs or websites where unverified people are offering advice based on their own personal opinions.
My thanks to Archana for sharing her knowledge with us. Let me add that if you’re looking to stay on top of labor and employment law issues, be sure to sign up for Foley & Lardner’s electronic newsletter or follow one of their blogs. They are on my must-read list.
Even if HR doesn’t have responsibility for payroll, many employees go to HR first when it’s time to answer a payroll question. HR can play a significant role in helping employees understand expectations and how to resolve their own payroll challenges.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby exploring the Castillo de la Real Fuerza in Havana, Cuba20