Eye on Ethics: Ethical Challenges and Coronavirus

Document Type


Department (Manual Entry)

School of Social Work


Decades from now, social workers are likely to recall 2020 as the year their lives were transformed by COVID-19, aka coronavirus. With little notice, legions of social workers suddenly found themselves facing unprecedented roadblocks in their effort to serve their clients. In-person meetings were cancelled. Both clients and social workers scrambled to fashion new ways of connecting remotely. Within minutes of declarations of a public health emergency, I began receiving frantic telephone calls, e-mails, and text messages from social workers throughout the United States who sought clarification about the rules: Am I allowed to use my personal smartphone to talk with clients? How about using FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Google Voice, Zoom, GoToMeeting, Facebook Messenger, Skype, and WhatsApp? What’s HIPAA-compliant and what’s not? Are the major insurance companies authorizing social workers to use these digital tools? Can I serve clients who live in other states where I’m not licensed? These are reasonable and understandable questions, of course.