Eye on Ethics: Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety

Document Type


Department (Manual Entry)

School of Social Work


Here's the good news: Ethics-related impropriety in social work is rare. Very few social workers become involved in egregious misconduct, e.g., engaging in sexual relationships with clients, submitting fraudulent bills to health care insurers for services that were never provided, or falsifying administrative records to deceive funding agencies. The overwhelming majority of social workers would never engage in any such misbehavior; of course, even one such case is unacceptable.

Now here's the bad news: In many cases that lead to ethics complaints, social workers behave in ways that rise to the level of an appearance of impropriety, and the consequences are often severe. Typically these social workers intend no harm. But, to a panel of peers (in a licensing board case) or to a judge or jury (in cases where social workers are named as defendants in malpractice cases), even the appearance of impropriety can be problematic.