Eye on Ethics: Challenging Unethical Agency Policies

Document Type


Department (Manual Entry)

School of Social Work


Social workers sometimes find their ethical instincts conflict with agency policies and regulations. This may occur when social workers are employed in a “host” setting, where social work is not the primary function or profession and administrators may not be particularly familiar with social work values and ethical standards (typical examples include correctional facilities, the military, and schools). For example, military social workers may find that senior officers to whom they are accountable are not familiar with social work’s ethical standards related to confidentiality and expect social workers to disclose confidential information shared by soldiers who receive clinical services. As a matter of principle, social workers have an obligation to ensure that employers are familiar with ethical standards in social work. According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics, “social workers should take reasonable steps to ensure that employers are aware of social workers’ ethical obligations as set forth in the NASW Code of Ethics and of the implications of those obligations for social work practice” (standard 3.09[c]).