Pennsylvania Enacts New Open Records Law: Public Access to Government Personnel Records

March 4, 2008

In response to heavy lobbying by the Pennsylvania Newspapers Association, Pennsylvania enacted legislation overhauling what was largely regarded as one of the worst open records laws in the country.   The “Right-to-Know Law” is generally effective January 1, 2009, and applies to the public records of state and local agencies, the state legislature, municipalities and the judicial system. All records are presumed to be public records unless subject to specific exemption, protected by legal privilege or exempt by regulation or judicial order. The exemptions applicable to employment related public records are as follows:

  • Medical, psychiatric or psychological records;
  • Personal identification information like social security, telephone or other personal financial information except that a government employee’s name, position, salary and employment contract are not considered personal identification information;
  • Employment records including the following:
    • Reference letters and recommendations;
    • Performance reviews;
    • Civil service test results;
    • Employment applications of those not hired;
    • Written criticisms of an employee;
    • Grievance material including documents related to discrimination and sexual harassment; and
    • Preliminary disciplinary or discharge information; however, the “final action” of an agency that results in demotion or discharge is a public record;
  • Collective bargaining strategy or negotiations and arbitration proceedings except as to the final contract or arbitrator’s decision; and
  • Trade secrets or confidential proprietary information.

The Right-to-Know Law is a big change from the prior law that protected personnel records. Salaries of Pennsylvania’s public employees were not subject to disclosure under the previous open records law leading to great speculation about Penn State Coach Joe Paterno’s salary.   Had the secrecy of JoPa’s salary not been resolved by a 2007 lawsuit, it would have been subject to disclosure under the new law. By the way, his salary is around $500,000.