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What does it mean to “paper” your personnel file?

On Behalf of | Sep 3, 2022 | Discrimination, Retaliation

Colorado and federal lawmakers want workers to feel safe about reporting illegal activity in the workplace, which is why laws against retaliation exist. Employers cannot take adverse measures like firing an employee who acts as a whistleblower. Still, this does not mean that an employer will not try to justify a retaliatory action.

Sometimes an employer will attempt to cast a whistleblowing employee in a negative light. U.S. News and World Report explains that some workplaces try to “paper” the personnel file of a worker before demoting or firing the employee.

How papering a file works

If you have performed quality work and get along with your fellow workers, your personnel file may have few if no complaints against you, which will not offer your employer grounds to discipline you. Instead, a superior at your job might try to dirty your reputation by suddenly placing complaints into your file. By doing so, your employer will try to get around anti-retaliation laws by claiming you had earned your demotion or firing.

The legality of papering a file

Technically, it is not illegal to paper a personnel file. However, it may not help an employer get around anti-discrimination laws. The abrupt stuffing of a personnel file with negative reports can come off as suspicious, more so if workplace management had not been documenting the activities of the worker to any great extent up to that point.

Papering your file may also invite questions about how your workplace treats other workers who have received complaints. Your employer might not have allowed you to defend yourself while your fellow workers could appeal their complaints to management. In the end, trying to smear your good name could backfire on your employer.