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Equal Rights for Clinical Staff

by Barry-Lee Coyne, L.C.S.W.

Much attention has been paid to safeguard the rights of patients in the event a social worker or other clinician turns corrupt and violates ethical standards. It is appropriate that this be done, of course. No profession can ever guarantee each one of its members remains totally honest and principled. In my state of Oregon a Clinical Social Work Board has been set up to scrutinize all complaints.

However, safeguards for the clinician are largely absent. That does not make for a level playing field.

What if a client gets disgruntled and makes a wild, untruthful charge? How is it possible to protect that counselor from being falsely accused and slandered?

Most social agencies are sensitive to wanting a positive public image. But that needn't result in agency administrators assuming the client is correct and the clinician is guilty before the facts are assembled. Presumption of innocence is a right supposed guaranteed to one and all. That principle must be upheld.

Here are my recommendations:

--All complaints must be in writing and include date of the alleged breach;

--The defendent must have at least 48 hours to re-read records to be better equipped to recall the dynamics of the interaction/session in question;

--A neutral third party should be designated as the mediator;

--Both parties merit the opportunity to make their cases with witnesses called to support and validate claims produced;

--If a claim is found to be baseless or misleading, that finding should be placed in the personnel file of the accused individual;

--If the defendent is upheld, a memo to the entire staff should be circulated; likewise, if the defendent is found guilty, that should be announced;

--Termination need not be automatic, but unpaid leave and loss of vacation and other such sanctions, as well as formal reprimands, may be considered.

In other words, let the penalty follow only if guilt is established. If innocence of the charge results, let the stigma be removed. Justice deserves nothing less!


About the Author: Lee Coyne has been a social worker since 1974 and has served in leadership positions in New York, Washington, DC and currently Oregon. He is founder of The Coping Clinic and a prolific writer of professional articles.

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