Public Employee Payroll Records

Under OPRA, public employee “payroll records” are public records. But this deceptively simple term can become difficult to apply.

Certainly, an employee’s base gross salary is a public record. Such information must be provided, even if the records have to be generated from a database or third-party payroll service provider. Total compensation, including expense reimbursements, is also a public record.

Whether the itemized deductions from an employee’s pay are disclosable is a gray area. Amounts deducted from gross pay that reflect State and Federal taxes are not public records. In our view, the amounts deducted from public employees in general for their share of health insurance premiums is a public record, but the specific amount paid by any one employee is more of a gray area.  However, whether a public employee is enrolled in an employer-sponsored health benefits or pension plan is a public record.

Whether net pay is a public record is an open question. On the one hand, net pay may be characterized as personal financial information. On the other hand, net pay could reveal potential misconduct.

In our opinion, “banked” (or accrued) time that is part of an employee’s compensation, such as accumulated sick days, vacation days, paid time off are also public records, even if the time has been banked but not utilized or paid.

Reimbursement checks to employees are public records, except that specific bank account numbers should be redacted. Payroll checks should generally not be treated as public records, since they reveal the amounts of net pay. Pay stubs are likely not public records to the extent they reveal itemized deductions.

Even though payroll records are public records, tax documents that may contain payroll records or payroll information are not public records. Thus, an employee’s W-2 is not a public record. (Most, if not all, IRS records relating to public employees are not public records).

For hourly employees, the rate of pay and the amount paid, including overtime, is a public record.  The hours, rate of pay and gross pay for police officers who perform work for outside employers pursuant to an agreement between the municipality and the outside employer are also public records.