Employee Home Phone Numbers: Public or Private?

A citizen makes a public records request: “I would like all the home phone numbers of your staff.” Your immediate, natural reaction might be “That information is confidential, there’s no way I have to give that out.”

This question offers some opportunities to look at North Carolina’s Public Records Law and learn how some records or information may or may not be confidential, depending on where the information is kept.

In North Carolina, if a record is created in the transaction of public business, it is considered a public record and open for public inspection unless there is a specific state or federal law saying that record or information is confidential. It is understandable that you would think an employee’s home phone number is confidential, but there is no state or federal statute stating that an employee’s home phone number is confidential.

However in most cases, an employee’s home phone number would routinely be stored in their personnel file.  North Carolina statutes outline the parts of an employee’s personnel file that are open to the public (GS 153A-98 for county employees, GS 160A-68 for municipal employees). Neither of those statutes, or any of the other local government personnel privacy statutes, list the employee’s home phone number as a public record. So, if the phone number is kept in the personnel file, you would not have to turn it over as part of a public records request. Of course, we can’t hide things by putting them in personnel files, but an employee’s home phone number is something that a reasonable person would expect to be housed there.

Another place employee phone numbers may be kept would be in a disaster plan as part of a phone tree for after-hours contacts. GS 132-1-7(a) exempts from public access “…information containing specific details of public security plans and arrangements or the detailed plans and drawings of public buildings and infrastructure facilities.” I believe this would make your agency’s disaster plans not a public record, and not open for public inspection. That statute does go on to say in paragraph (c) that information about the “general adoption” and “budgetary information” about public security plans are public records.

If your agency or department creates and disseminates a list or directory containing these phone numbers, then that would be open for public inspection. If your agency does create such a list, it would be thoughtful to give employees a chance to opt out.


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