What is a ‘Public Record’?
A public record is any document, regardless of physical form, that is made or received in connection with the public business of any state agency. “Regardless of physical form” means that films, audio recordings, pictures, photographs, computer files, and email, texts, and electronic messages may all be considered a public record.
At NC State, the University Records Officer is responsible for coordinating responses to public records requests. Therefore, you should always consult with the University Records Officer in OGC before responding to a public records request or providing access to the records you maintain.
Are the personal e-mails that I send and receive on my university computer private?
No. While a personal e-mail is not a public record, the university may be legally obligated in the course of litigation or threatened litigation to preserve, maintain and review all e-mails for a particular employee’s e-mail address, university computer or university server. Therefore, if you desire privacy, you should use your personal device and your personal account a private e-mail account for personal communications matters.
Are all records maintained by NC State available to the public?
Some records maintained by the University are confidential and, generally, must not be made available for public inspection. Common examples of confidential records include:
- Student records (see exceptions below)
- Personnel records (see exceptions below).
- Trade secrets.
- Medical and counseling records.
- An attorney’s written communications when the attorney is representing the University
- Bids for public contracts before the contract is awarded.
- Library user records
- Information about applicants for admission to NC State (except that communications from elected officials about applicants remain publicly-available)
- Bids for public contracts before the contract is awarded.
- UNC system internal auditor working papers
Some documents maintained by NC State are not confidential, but may be withheld from public release. These are commonly referred to as non-public records. Examples of non-public records include:
- Law enforcement records.
- Student records.
- Research or commercial data which has not been published or patented.
- Minutes and general accounts of public body closed session meetings.
- Records maintained by NC State which are unrelated to official business.
How long do I have to keep university records in my office?
It depends on the type of record. Under North Carolina law, public records may only be destroyed in accordance with the approved UNC System Records Retention and Disposition Schedule. Please review the Schedule to determine if and for how long a record must be retained, as well as how to dispose of records.
How do I destroy records once the retention period has expired?
Please see the UNC System Records Retention and Disposition Schedule for information regarding the disposition of records. Please contact the North Carolina State Archives or NC State University’s Archives for additional information and guidance.
Public Records that have met their retention requirements under an approved schedule and which are not subject to legal or other audit holds, and Unscheduled Records that have been specifically approved for destruction by the Department of Cultural Resources, may be destroyed in one of the following ways:
- Shredded or torn up to destroy the record content of the documents or material concerned
- Placed in acid vats so as to reduce the paper to pulp and to terminate the existence of the documents or material concerned
- Buried under such conditions that the record nature of the documents or materials will be terminated
- Sold as waste paper, provided that the purchaser agrees in writing that the documents or materials concerned will not be resold as documents or records
- Deletion, overwriting, or erasure of electronically stored records in a manner approved by Information Technology staff; or
- Other methods of disposal that are proportionate to the confidentiality of the record (for example, routine non-confidential public records may be put in the trash, but records covered by confidentiality laws must be irretrievably destroyed).
Public records that have been maintained for the required amount of time under the applicable records retention schedule may be destroyed in various ways. The most common destruction method for non-confidential records is to simply discard them through NC State’s paper recycling program. Confidential records must be irretrievably destroyed by shredding or, in the case of electronic records, deletion, overwriting or erasure in a manner approved by authorized information technology staff. Contact the University Records Officer in OGC before destroying any records in your custody.
What information about me as an employee is confidential and what constitutes public information?
The NC Personnel Records Act regulates what information about State employees is private versus public information. Public information includes the employee’s name, age, date of original employment or appointment to State service, current position, title, terms of any employment contract, salary history (and other forms of compensation), date of each promotion, demotion, transfer, suspension, or other change in position classification and description of reason for each, the date and type of each dismissal, suspension, or demotion for disciplinary reasons and a copy of the final written notice of any dismissal, and the office or station where the employee is assigned. Confidential information consists of personally identifiable information such as home address, social security number, medical information, financial data, marital status, dependents and beneficiaries, information regarding performance evaluations, and other documents contained in a personnel file.
What is a personnel file?
A “personnel file” is any employment-related or personal information gathered by an employer. This includes material related to an employee’s application and selection for employment as well as information regarding performance, compensation, home address, medical history and other identifying data. Information can be a part of the “personnel file” even if it is not included in the supervisor’s file folder labeled “personnel file.” It is the content of the information, not the form or location, that determines the scope of the file.
Is my personnel file confidential?
Yes. With some exceptions, an employee’s personnel file information is confidential. It is not public record. Any University official who wrongly divulges information from an employee’s file or one who examines information in that file without authority is guilty of a crime.
Is any employment-related or personal information releasable to the public?
Yes. Despite personnel file confidentiality, the following information can be released to the public:
- Date of original employment or appointment to State service.
- Terms of any employment contract by which the employee is employed whether written or oral, past and current, to the extent that the employing agency has the written contract or a record of the oral contract in its possession.
- Current position.
- Current salary (“salary” for purposes of personnel file information available to the public includes pay, benefits, incentives, bonuses, and deferred and all other forms of compensation paid by the employing entity).
- Date and amount of each increase or decrease in salary with that department, agency, institution, commission, or bureau.
- Date and type of each promotion, demotion, transfer, suspension, separation, or other change in position classification with that department, agency, institution, commission or bureau.
- Date and general description of the reasons for each promotion with that department, agency, institution, commission or bureau.
- Date and type of each dismissal, suspension, or demotion for disciplinary reasons taken by the department, agency, institution, commission, or bureau. If the disciplinary action was a dismissal, a copy of the written notice of the final decision of the head of the department setting forth the specific acts or omissions that are the basis of the dismissal.
- The office or station to which the employee is currently assigned.
What should I do if I am asked to release personnel file information?
Any employee who receives a request for personnel file information, including information that is available to the public, should always refer the request to Human Resources Information Management. If personnel file information is released to anyone other than the employee to whom it pertains, a supervisor must create a log that tracks the disclosure. The log must include the following information, correlating with each request to view personnel file information: the name of employee, the information disclosed, the information requested, and the name and address of the person to whom the disclosure is made. This requirement does not apply to disclosures related to a credit check. Upon request, the log of disclosures shall be made available to the employee to whom it pertains.
How should an employee be provided access to their personnel file?
A non-faculty employee who would like to review their personnel file should submit a request to their supervisor or to the Director, Human Resources Information Management (HRIM). Requests from faculty members should be directed to the faculty member’s department head. When an employee requests to view their personnel file, they should specify whether they would like to review only the information maintained by the supervisor or their entire personnel file stored throughout the University, and should specify the types of documents sought. They should also specify whether they would like to simply review the documents or would like a copy of the documents. The University will provide one copy to an employee free of charge.
What information about me as a student is public information?
Most information regarding a student is private. However, information that the university identifies as “public directory information” is subject to release unless a student has placed a privacy block on their directory information. Please visit NC State’s Registration and Records website for the university’s definition of “public directory information.” Please see the FERPA regulation for additional information regarding the release of student records.
Do special rules apply to student records?
Yes. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, known as FERPA, is a federal law that protects student records. The law requires colleges and universities to keep student records private and, generally, to obtain the student’s consent before their records are shared or released. The law also gives students the right to inspect records about themselves and to have their records corrected.
What information about me as a student is public information?
Most information regarding a student is private. However, information that the university identifies as “public directory information” is subject to release unless a student has placed a privacy block on their directory information. Please visit NC State’s Registration and Records website for the university’s definition of “public directory information.”
What should I do if a parent asks me for a copy of his or her child’s grade?
Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), parents do not have an automatic right to see the educational records of their children. You should refer the parent back to the student to get grades directly from them or refer the parent to the Registrar’s Office. The Registrar’s Office will have the student complete a FERPA release form before releasing grades or other records to the parent.
Is my meeting subject to the Open Meetings Act?
It depends on whether the meeting constitutes an “official meeting” of a “public body.” A public body at the university is one that is 1) established by the Board of Trustees, the Chancellor or a Vice Chancellor; 2) composed of two or more people who are not exclusively university administrators; and 3) authorized to exercise administrative or advisory functions on a university-wide basis. An “official meeting” occurs when a majority of the public body attends. Most university standing committees and some search committees are subject to the Open Meetings Act. For more information on what constitutes an open meeting and the requirements, please see the OGC Open Meetings webpage.