Public Employee Personnel Records

Under OPRA, a public employee’s personnel records are exempt from disclosure, but there are two important exceptions to this general rule.

The first is an “exception to the exception.” Although a public employee’s personnel records are exempt, OPRA itself lists several categories of information that must be disclosed upon request: (1) a public employee’s name; (2) their title or position; (3) salary; (4) payroll record; (5) length of service; (6) date of separation and the reason for the separation; and (7) the amount and  type of any pension received. (This list of information is located at N.J.S.A. 47:1A-10).

Most of this information should be readily accessible from the public agency. However, data regarding retired public employees’ pensions may only be available from the New Jersey Division of Pensions and Benefits.

The second important exception is a recent Supreme Court case that held that records that might otherwise constitute “personnel records” that contain some of the information listed in N.J.S.A. 47:1A-10 may also be subject to disclosure, but with redactions.

In Libertarians for Transparent Government v. Cumberland County, the Supreme Court held that certain information in personnel records “qualify” as a government record, including a person’s name, title, date of separation and the reason for the separation.  Because the settlement agreement contained information that is a public record, the Supreme Court ordered that a redacted version of the settlement agreement should be produced to Libertarians. (A more detailed discussion of the Libertarians case is located here).

Based on the Libertarians case, settlement agreements that resolve personnel issues are public records and should be disclosed, but with redactions.

Access to other types of personnel records may be more restricted. In general, public agencies have treated employee schedules, start and stop times, internal personnel memos, internal investigations, and employee discipline records as confidential personnel records.

If you have been denied access to records on the basis of the personnel records exception, it is important to consult with an attorney who is experienced in handling OPRA matters, and to do so quickly, because the statute of limitations to file an OPRA action is only 45 days after the date of the denial.