Personnel records clearly fall under the act’s definition of public record and are thus open to the public. However, a personnel file will inevitably contain confidential information requiring redaction. Information including salary, disciplinary records, and employment applications is open for public inspection. Other personal information such as Social Security numbers, bank account and routing numbers, medical records, and driver’s license information (unless driving is part of the employee’s duties or job description) is confidential and should never be released. Recent legislative acts made municipal employee home and personal cell telephone numbers, residential street addresses, personal email addresses, and emergency contact information confidential. A 2009 act made the individual health savings account, retirement account, and pension account information of state, county and municipal employees confidential. The act did not, however, limit public access to financial records showing the amounts and sources of governmental employer contributions to these accounts.
The records of former employees and applicants receive the same protections as those of current employees. Hence, any information in the personnel file of a current employee or that is confidential remains confidential upon and following his or her separation from the city.
Every personnel file contains confidential information. This is why original personnel files should never be released. Instead, even when a citizen requests only inspection, a copy should be made, and all confidential information should be redacted before a citizen is allowed to view the records.
When a city participates in the Drug-Free Workplace Program, employee drug test results are protected from disclosure. T.C.A. § 50-9-109 specifically addresses drug test results. It states in relevant part:
(a) All information, interviews, reports, statements, memoranda and drug or alcohol test results, written or otherwise, received by the covered employer through a drug or alcohol testing program are confidential communications and may not be used or received in evidence, obtained in discovery or disclosed in any public or private proceedings, except in accordance with this section or in determining compensability under this chapter.
The section goes on to say that this information remains protected until the tested person signs a voluntary consent form or a judicial ruling orders disclosure.
The confidentiality of these records is further cemented by a 1999 Tennessee attorney general opinion. Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. No. 99-126, June 29, 1999. In this opinion the attorney general suggests that even where drug test results are kept in an employee’s personnel file pursuant to the Drug-Free Workplace Program, they are nonetheless confidential and not subject to disclosure under the Tennessee Public Records Act. Furthermore, the opinion recommends the practice of maintaining all drug testing records separate from the employee’s personnel file.
A military discharge record that comes into possession of a governmental entity, including a municipality, is confidential and not subject to public inspection for 75 years. However, inspection is authorized pursuant to a valid court order or to the following persons upon presentation of proper identification: the veteran; spouse or child of veteran, or if none, closest living relative; person named veteran’s power of attorney; another governmental body; authorized representative of a funeral home assisting in veteran’s burial.