A confidential employee is any individual employed with a given company who is granted access to proprietary information regarding the relationships of the employer with other employees of the firm. The origin of the term is found in the laws of the state of California in the United States, specifically the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act, or HEERA, that was passed in 1984. While not employed in every business culture, there are typically employees in any company that fit the basic profile of a confidential employee, with individuals employed in human resource capacities being one of the most apparent examples.
The responsibilities of a confidential employee typically involve access to information that is not made available to employees in general. For example, the administrative assistant of a department head may be privy to information about the supervisors who report to that department head that is not shared with other departments or even other employees within that same department. In like manner, a project manager may be provided with access to data about employees selected to participate on the project team that would otherwise remained solely in the possession of the human resources department. The scope of data shared is often job-related, although in some nations the information may also be personal in nature, especially when security is an issue.
Any data that is provided to a confidential employee is considered to be on a need-to-know basis. Use of the information is often restricted to specific tasks, with instructions to only share the data with others who also need the information to successfully complete tasks assigned to them. A confidential employee is likely to know a great deal about pending mergers or other key events in the life of the company before other employees are made aware of those activities, and is expected to remain silent until the owners choose to make a public announcement.
One of the most important qualities that any confidential employee must possess is the ability to manage proprietary information discreetly and in keeping with company policies. This means that information obtained about one member of the work force is not shared with anyone else who does not need that information in order to perform his or her duties. Failure to protect the privacy of employees is considered a breach in confidentiality and may lead to an immediate dismissal. Depending on applicable laws that apply in a given nation or other jurisdiction, the employee who shared the proprietary information to unauthorized individuals may also be subject to criminal or civil action as a result of that breach.