What is Board-level Employee Representation?
Board-level Employee Representation is often considered to be at the ‘peak’ of worker participation forms in capitalist firms, and a key feature of workplace democracy and participation. It is an institutionalised and indirect form of worker participation through which the collective voice of employees can be expressed via representatives in top corporate governing or administrative bodies, usually single-tiered boards of directors or supervisory boards. Board-level Employee Representatives can be elected by the workforce or appointed in other ways (e.g. by trade unions or central, group or European Works Councils), depending on the country or company in question. Board-level Employee Representatives endeavour to provide worker input and have an overview on company strategic decision-making though their actual influence and oversight role depend on many factors, including the powers of the board on which they sit.
Why focus on Board-level Employee Representation?
Worker participation and influence over company policy and the economy has been core to historical trade union debates and claims since the end of 19th century, aimed at countering authoritarian rule at work and in the economy by redistributing power from owners and managers to workers. Among instruments for worker participation, Board-level Employee Representation stands out for emphasising information and consultation, and also the right for workers to be involved earlier in organisational decision-making process and represented in corporate decision-making structures, often with voting rights.
Board-level Employee Representation can be a significant asset and power resource for worker representatives and trade unions. It provides them with an informed view of an entire company or corporate group, and better able to anticipate the impact of company decisions for workers and influence corporate governance, company law and worker participation. As an established social dialogue institution, it has been associated in scholarship with positive effects for company productivity, competitiveness, motivation, innovation, sustainability, and social peace.
Board-level Employee Representation is an active instrument in many EU Member States and Norway. Despite institutional diversity across countries, changing political economy contexts, and differing degrees of implementation, legal provisions enacted in many Members States and Norway since World War II have enabled worker representation on boards of directors, management boards, supervisory boards and similar decision-making structures, with their rights often rooted in labour and company law.
While Board-level Employee Representation remains a significant form of worker participation, it is often debated in ideological and practical terms due to concern over, for example, the legal rules underpinning representatives’ rights; a lack of articulation with other national industrial relations systems; potential conflict with other mechanisms such as collective bargaining; the democratic basis of employee representation; potential co-option of Board-level Employee Representatives by management during their mandate; limited manoeuvrability of representatives to use information received in the board due to confidentiality obstacles; and little influence on corporate policy due to a minority presence on boards; and lack of training.
What ETUI does on Board-level Employee Representation
Pioneering EU legislation provides for the Europeanisation of Board-Level Employee Representation (see EU law) while some national legislation provides for its transnationalisation (see Lafuente, 2023). There are also key Board-level employee representation legislative cases and resources, including the ETUI’s quantitative and qualitative analyses; materials held by the Hans Böckler Foundation; and archived ETUI materials (Other resources). Workers, trade unions, and company managers’ understanding of how Board-level employee representation regulations function, and how such representation may develop, is key to better leveraging company performance informed by workers’ knowledge and democratic participation.
The worker-participation.eu website houses exciting and innovative ETUI research on significant Board-level Employee Representation issues. It includes theoretical and normative analysis; and quantitative and qualitative assessments from interviews with Board-level employee representatives, and of Board-level Employee Representation national-level institutional designs, practices, implementation and debates. EU-level research includes case studies of European Company (SE) negotiations, Board-level Employee Representation practice and related provisions in SE agreements and its practice; survey data on Board-level Employee Representation; a focus on Board-level employee representation’s articulation with European Works Councils and other industrial relations instruments; and emergent topics including gender equality in employee representation on boards.
- Theoretical perspectives on Board-level Employee Representation and democracy at work
- National-level Board-level Employee Representation law and practice
- EU-level Board-level Employee Representation law and practice
- Articulation between Board-level Employee Representation and European Works Councils or other industrial relations dimensions
- Quantitative survey of Board-level Employee Representatives in Europe
- Women and Board-level Employee Representation
- Board-level Employee Representation and Financial Participation
- Board-level Employee Representation and trade unions
Legislation and instruments on Board-level Employee Representation
National, EU legislation and national transposition laws and other information on Board-level Employee Representation rights can be found here:
- National law and other instruments on Board-level Employee Representation
- EU law (European Company (SE), European Cooperative Society (SCE) and Cross-Border Company Mergers Directives)
- European Company (SE) national transposition laws
- European Cooperative Society (SCE) Directive national transposition table (as of 8 November 2023)
- Cross-border mergers, Company law and Cross-border conversions, mergers and divisions Directives national transposition table (as of 8 November 2023)
- ETUC 2020 Position on a new EU framework on information, consultation and board-level representation for European company forms and for companies making use of EU company law instruments enabling company mobility
- ETUC 2016 Position Paper on a new EU framework for information, consultation and board-level representation rights
- ETUC 2014 Resolution towards a new framework for more democracy at work
- ETUC 2008 Resolution of the Fund/European Worker Participation Competence Centre (FR) (EN)
The worker-participation.eu website houses commentaries, decisions, and links to key court cases concerning Board-level Employee Representation:
- European Court of Justice (ECJ) cases and commentaries
- French court cases related to the interpretation of ‘cumul des mandats’
- National case law
Frequently asked questions
You can view the most often-asked questions - and responses - about Board-level Employee Representation to FAQ.