Employee Rights Attorney

Mission Viejo, California

Q: “If a vendor or collection agency contacts a company searching for an employee who no longer works at the company, can the personnel department release the last known address of the employee or does that violate some privacy law?”

A: “Certain employee documents such as medical records are confidential under the law. But I know of no statute prohibiting a company from disclosing the last known address of an employee.

“It’s possible, however, that the company has made certain promises not to reveal information in personnel files or other private details about employees. You should review the company’s employee handbook or other policy statements on the subject.

“If management promised that such information would only be released to the employee, then provided it to a third party, the employee might have a claim against the employer for breach of contract.

“Regardless of whether an employer’s actions violate a specific law, employers sometimes simply decide against certain actions because of what is ‘perceived’ to be the law, or rights of the employee.

“Disclosing a former employee’s address to an unknown third party might cause extreme financial or even physical damage to the employee. The employer has to understand that such carelessness and disregard for the welfare of a former worker may result in a lawsuit and possibly liability.

“A better approach for the employer would be to tell the inquiring party that it will pass along word of the inquiry to the former employee, leaving the decision to him or her whether to respond.”