Employers often receive requests for information from current and former employees, as well as unions. For example, a former employee might ask for a copy of his/her personnel file, or a union might ask for copies of certain disciplinary records. When these requests are made, the first question an employer generally asks, and properly so, is “do we have to provide this information?”

Sometimes, the answer is yes. For example, many states require employers to give current and former employees copies of certain personnel records, and the National Labor Relations Act (http://www.nlrb.gov/national-labor-relations-act) gives unions the right to certain information.

Sometimes, the answer is no. The employer, for example, may be located in a state that does not have a statute (http://tinyurl.com/65nt3e8) requiring it to provide employees with access to personnel records.

However, even when the employer does not have to provide the information, it usually should consider another question — “should we provide the information anyway?” Refusing to provide information may sometimes make a current or former employee, an attorney, or a union believe there is a problem or issue when none exists. Providing the information — if it is helpful to the employer's position — may defuse the issue or cause the employee, attorney, or union to conclude there is no viable claim to pursue.

Each case is different, and employers need to comply with privacy and HIPAA rules when it comes to providing information. However, depending on the circumstances and the nature of the information, sometimes the right answer is to provide information even when you are not required to do so.