The Washington State Legislature recently amended the Public Records Act (“PRA”) establishing new exemptions related to personal information in employee records and imposes a new requirement for agencies to provide notice to employees when certain information from their personnel file is responsive to a request.

The changes to the PRA, RCW 42.56.250, are summarized as follows:

  • RCW 42.56.250(4) is amended to also exempt from disclosure “payroll deductions including the amount and identification of the deduction…” It is no longer pertinent whether the deduction is mandatory or voluntary or whether disclosure would violate an individual’s privacy. All deductions may be exempted.
  • Photographs and birth month and year in all personnel files are now exempt from disclosure under RCW 42.56.250(8). This previously only applied to employees of criminal justice agencies.
  • Personnel demographic details voluntarily submitted to and maintained by a state agency or higher education institution are now exempt under RCW 42.56.250(11). Note that this does not apply to local government agencies.
  • Under RCW 42.56.250(12), third-party notice is now mandatory when information requested is located exclusively in a public employee’s personnel, payroll, supervisor, or training file. The agency must notify the employee, any union representing the employee, and the requestor. The RCW provides specific information that must be provided within the notice.

This new legislation addresses the concerns raised with a recent Washington Supreme Court decision that under the Public Records Act, as previously written, a public employee’s name and date of birth were not exempt from disclosure. See Wash. Pub. Employees Ass’n v. Washington State Center for Childhood Deafness & Hearing Loss, 194 Wn.2d 484 (2019).

The full language of the amendment can be found in Second Substitute House Bill (SSHB) 1888 here. If Chmelik Sitkin & Davis can be of any assistance to help your agency update its PRA policies or procedures, please contact our PRA Practice Group, Katherine Deets or Allison Beard at 360-671-1796.