A client called because their offices were visited by two detectives looking for a recently hired employee. Apparently, she was wanted for questioning regarding an on-going investigation. The employee called in sick that day so was not at work when the detectives came by. The client wanted to know if the company was obligated to provide the employee’s address when the detectives inquired.
Unless your state or locality has a local law requiring employers cooperate with the police, which would be unusual, employers have no obligations to provide employee contact information to the police. In fact, that contact information (address, phone number, email address) or other identifying information (birthdate, social security number) could be protected by a number of privacy laws. There is no question that an employer has an obligation to maintain the privacy of that information provided by employees with regard to the outside world, generally, and even from other employees unless there is a business reason to know. For example, a direct supervisor could be provided with an employee’s cell phone number to call if the employee does not show up to work. Providing the requested information to the police could be a breach of the employee’s privacy rights.
While employers should be polite and cooperative with police, the best course of action would be to ask if the police had a warrant or a subpoena for that employee’s information. If not, politely decline and say you will be happy to provide it once they obtain one. That way, if the employee should question the propriety of the release of the information, the company can advise that it was required to provide it by the legal documentation the police provided.
Of course, when anyone appears at your business claiming to be the police seeking information about one of your employees, the first step would be to ensure that the person is who they say they are. Ask to see ID and his or her shield. Call the individual’s precinct and confirm that Detective or Officer Smith is indeed attached to that precinct and is working on a matter related to the employee in question. In this day and age, it pays to go the extra step to ensure the protection of your employees’ confidential information, including their whereabouts. Receptionists should be trained to not even inform the officers that the employee is employed there, and is at work, or not at work, before confirming the identity of the individual making the inquiry.
Consult with employment counsel for questions regarding the propriety of releasing employee personal information.