PRA Employment Records Exemption Applies to Former Employees
The Public Records Act (PRA) provides, in RCW 42.56.250(2) and (3), disclosure exemptions related to public employees and applicants for public employment. But what if someone makes a PRA request for records related to a former employee? Do these exemptions still apply? In a recent decision, the Washington State Court of Appeals held that these exemptions apply not only to current employees, but also to former employees.
In that decision, Belenski v. Jefferson County, No. 45756-3-II (2015), the PRA requester requested, among other things, all records and contact information for a former county employee. The county responded by relying on the exemptions in RCW 42.56.250(2) and (3) to withhold entirely or redact partially records responsive to the request, some of which related to the former employee’s employment application, and one that was related to his family’s medical information.
Subsection (2) of that statute exempts materials submitted by applicants for public employment, including the names of applicants, résumés, and other related materials submitted with respect to an applicant. Subsection (3) exempts specific personal information that’s held by any public agency in personnel records, public employment related records, volunteer rosters, or in any mailing list of employees or volunteers of any public agency. The personal information that falls within this exemption includes residential addresses, residential phone numbers, personal wireless phone numbers, personal email addresses, social security numbers, and emergency contact information.
The court held that the records related to the employment application (e.g., the application, résumés, background checks, and driving records) clearly are the type of records that are categorically exempt under RCW 42.56.250(2). The court’s reference to “categorically exempt” means that the records are exempt in their entirety because each of these records, in whole, falls squarely within the exemption.
The county also made available three records with partial redactions. The county redacted from these records residential addresses, personal email addresses, and personal phone numbers, as well as medical information. The court held that the county properly redacted such information.
The requester argued that the exemptions the county relied upon were inapplicable because the employee no longer worked for the county. In rejecting this argument, the court explained that the language of these exemptions doesn’t limit their application only to current employees, and that limiting these exemptions in that manner would “defy reason and jeopardize privacy.”
I regard this decision as significant because it clarifies an issue that hasn’t always been as clear as it could be, both for agencies and PRA requesters. Based on this decision, the exemptions in RCW 42.56.250(2) and (3) related to public employee information apply to both current and former agency employees.
MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.