Ann Kiernan replies:
You don’t say what the information is, or why you want to tell HR, so I cannot give a complete answer. But if, for instance, you know for a fact that a coworker has been assaulted by his/her spouse and has an order of protection against him/her, I think it would be a good idea to tell HR, so they can get a copy of the order and alert your building security to bar the assaulter from the workplace. We know that about 1/3 of all workplace violence incidents are spillovers of domestic violence problems.
But if your information is not definite, I would not recommend spreading it around. Rather, you could go to the coworker and say something like, “You haven’t seemed like yourself lately. Is everything OK? Is there something I can help you with?” And then listen. You could also suggest to your coworker that he/she call you company’s EAP provider and get some confidential professional advice.
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