Eye on Ethics: Essential Law in Social Work Ethics

Document Type


Department (Manual Entry)

School of Social Work


Many ethical issues—although certainly not all—require some knowledge of the law. Of course, the term “the law” is remarkably broad. When I am asked to consult on complex ethics cases, I am often asked what laws may be relevant. Examples include questions about minor clients’ right to privacy and consent to treatment; disclosure of confidential information, without clients’ consent, to protect third parties; entering into friendships with former clients; retention of clinical records following termination of services; and provision of remote social work services using digital technology. Thoughtful answers regarding these issues require considerable knowledge about laws that come in different forms. Indeed, the NASW Code of Ethics requires social workers to consult laws that are relevant to ethical decisions.