Tuesday, April 29, 2008

When the Supervisor Is Holding the Hot Potato

Q. One of my employees came to me and I promised her confidentiality in exchange for her telling me about her troubles at home. I should have referred her to our organization's counseling office, but now I feel I have information about her life at home that I should not keep confidential. What should I do?

A. Talk to the EAP about your difficult situation. Depending on the type of information that has been shared, the EAP will advise you on what to do. Some things learned in discourse with others should not be kept secret. For example, you should not promise to keep secret information you have about an intended suicide or a child being abused. There are other examples as well. You are not a professional counselor, so you’re stuck with the problem of making a judgment call. Privileged information, and information governed by privacy laws or confidentiality laws that prohibit or require disclosure, are linked to who we are and what we do. Your experience demonstrates the importance of remaining in the role of supervisor versus counselor. The EAP is better equipped, with its experience and skills, and the confidentiality laws that govern it, to manage confidential information, just as you are better equipped to correct performance.