First-Class Coach: How far should a coach protect confidentiality

Should I tell someone about the dubious circumstances of an employee I'm coaching?

by Miranda Kennett

Q: I've trained as an internal coach for my organisation and have started doing sessions for junior staff and middle management. But one of the employees I'm coaching has told me about personal circumstances that make me feel that they shouldn't be in a position of power in the firm. Do I talk to her boss or maintain the confidentiality I promised her?

A: How you resolve your situation depends on how serious the issue is. It may be a problem you can work through together, or you may have to refer your client to an external source of help: for psychotherapy, debt counselling or healthcare, for example. You may be able to persuade your client to be open about the issue with her boss. If not, and you feel unable to keep matters confidential between you, the professional code says you must end the coaching relationship. There are exceptions to the confidentiality rule - say, a risk of self-harm or harm to others - where you'll certainly need to involve external professionals.

In the case of alcoholism, drug misuse or criminality, procedures in the company's terms of employment may automatically override the tenets of the coaching contract, and failure to report these circumstances could adversely affect the career of the coach, who may be perceived as colluding in the misdemeanour.

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