The Privacy Act of 1974 gives federal employees several rights regarding information that is collected, kept as records, and/or released about them during the course of employment with the Federal government. There are criminal penalties for the knowing and willful disclosure of employee information and records to those not entitled to receive them; the willful maintenance of a record that is not in accordance with the privacy act; and the knowing and willful attempt to gain access to an individual’s records under false pretenses.
The law requires agencies to obtain written permission from an employee before releasing information about that employee. Note that the privacy act and other agency regulations may exempt certain information and release of information for certain reasons. As an example, routine internal releases and releases for law enforcement purposes can be done without the employee’s consent. As another example, if the agency does not provide an adequate alternative means for a union to communicate with the bargaining unit, the agency can provide the name and home address to the union without the employee’s consent.
Under the Privacy Act, employees have the right to inspect and receive copies of their files and can request corrections or amendments to erroneous information. If the agency refuses a request for corrections or amendments, the employee can appeal the denial in writing to the contact person which should be listed in the denial. Upon losing such an appeal, the employee has the right to file a brief statement to accompany the records wherever and whenever they are sent. Existing employees should direct requests about their records to the employing agency’s personnel office contact. Former employees should direct their requests to the Office of Personnel Management office in Washington, DC. The employee should include his or her full name, date of birth, and social security number to ensure the proper identification of the records.
Finally, employees have the right sue an agency for refusing to release or amend their records, for improper disclosure of information, or for the overall willful and intentional disregard of the provisions in the Privacy Act. An employee may be entitled to monetary damages in certain circumstances if that employee can prove, among other things, that he or she was adversely impacted as a result of the agency’s intentional and willful disregard of Privacy Act provisions. Court costs and attorney fees may also be rewarded.