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Careless whispers: confidentiality and board-level worker representatives

Valentina Franca (Faculty of Public Administration, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia)
Michael Doherty (Maynooth University, Maynooth, Ireland)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 21 February 2020

Issue publication date: 26 March 2020




The article focuses on the role that ‘confidential information’ plays in relation to the work of board-level worker representatives, and their interaction with other worker participation mechanisms. Thus, the purpose of the paper is to explore the implications of confidentiality of board-level information for effective worker participation. The main argument is that if board-level worker representatives are excessively constrained by confidentiality provisions, their capacity to work effectively is brought into question.


A qualitative research was undertaken on a sample of 12 public limited companies in Slovenia. In each company, three interviews were conducted: with the CEO or board member, with a board-level worker representative and with a works councilor, who was not a board-level worker representative (36 interviews in total). Each of these interviewees has a particular role, and interest, in handling confidential information. Thus, a method of triangulation by groups was employed. The interviews were conducted at the company premises during October and November 2017. The results were analysed by the content analysis method.


This research confirms that in the majority of companies, nearly all of the material and information discussed by the board is deemed to be ‘confidential’. Consequently, communication between board-level worker representatives and the works council is rendered difficult, if not impossible. The results indicate an urgent need to redefine the concept of confidentiality and to reinforce the level of communication between management boards and works councils.

Research limitations/implications

The research is limited to one country, which, by no means, is fatal, as international comparisons, although of greater breadth, often lose some depth of analysis (especially, for example, where there are differences in legal contexts). Although the issues discussed in the paper are of relevance to all those with an interest in worker participation mechanisms, they cannot be generalised mostly due to national specificities.


The question of confidentiality as between the board, board-level worker representatives, works councils, trade unions and other form of worker representation, despite its importance, has been raised quite rarely in research. In this research, three groups of stakeholders (CEO/board member, board-level workers representative and works council members) have been covered, with the aim to extend the understanding of how confidentiality obligations impact relationships between these.



The authors are grateful to the Slovene Directors' Association, which offered substantial assistance in organising interviews, and to the anonymous reviewers for their constructive and helpful comments.Funding: There was no specific funding for this research.


Franca, V. and Doherty, M. (2020), "Careless whispers: confidentiality and board-level worker representatives", Employee Relations, Vol. 42 No. 3, pp. 681-697.



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