Ethics and Professional Responsibility - Guide to Ethics Law

What is Ethics Law?

Ethics law provides for the discipline of attorneys, physicians, elected officials, and other professionals as a result of inappropriate conduct. These proceedings usually begin when a member of the public files a complaint with a professional responsibility review board. The complaint is investigated, and a formal hearing may be held. The accused individual will often hire an attorney to aid in the preparation of a defense, and to act as an advocate at the hearing. Those who are found guilty of serious ethics violations face severe penalties, including suspension or even revocation of their professional license.

Each profession subject to ethics oversight has a unique set of rules describing the specific types of conduct that will result in discipline. For example, lawyers cannot encourage a client to commit perjury, doctors cannot write a prescription in the absence of a bona fide medical need, and politicians cannot use public funds to pay for personal expenses. These rules are published by the enforcement authority in each jurisdiction. Practitioners are expected to keep abreast of the requirements and conduct themselves accordingly.

There are also a number of activities that will be considered misconduct for all types of professionals. Examples include abusing drugs or alcohol, being convicted of a criminal offense, and engaging in sexual relations with clients or subordinate public employees. Most professionals are prohibited from accepting money or benefits when it will give the appearance of impropriety, regardless of the true nature of the exchange. Finally, professionals have an ethical duty to act with competence. Complaints often come about because, for whatever reason, the practitioner provided substandard services to a client or patient.

Responding to Allegations

Not everyone who hires a professional or votes a candidate into office will be pleased with the results. When things go wrong, people tend to blame the person they trusted to handle the matter, especially when the unfavorable outcome is followed shortly thereafter by a bill requesting payment for the services. Fortunately, the majority of ethics complaints are screened by an oversight board during the initial stage of review. This also means that when professionals receive notice of a complaint, they should pay close attention. There must have been sufficient grounds, at least on the face of the complaint, for the board to move forward with the case.

The biggest mistake that can be made after receiving notice of an ethics complaint is to fail to reply to the board. Review boards typically give notice by sending a letter directly to the professional, explaining the nature of the complaint, and asking for a response. Oftentimes, the professional will be struggling with problems such as substance abuse or financial insolvency (ethics complaints usually occur during such times), and will be too preoccupied to reply to the board. Even if the complaint is later dismissed, the failure to respond to the board in a timely fashion may itself lead to discipline.

Negotiated Resolutions

Once the professional has contacted the board and responded to the allegations, it may be possible to resolve the controversy by agreement. Much like criminal prosecutors, ethics review boards have limited resources with which to investigate and prove cases of misconduct. In exchange for accepting some degree of responsibility, the professional can often succeed in having the case closed. This allows the board to focus its efforts on other cases.

It is crucial to understand that these negotiations take place between the professional and the board, not between the professional and the complaining party. Direct contact with the individual who filed the complaint must be avoided. It may be construed as an effort to undermine the integrity of the proceeding – a form of “witness tampering,” so to speak. There will be an appropriate time later in the proceeding for the professional and the client to reconcile, if they choose to do so.

Hearings in Front of the Board

If the case cannot be settled during the negotiation stage, then formal charges will be filed and a hearing will be scheduled to determine if an ethical violation did in fact occur. Ethics hearings are adversarial in nature, and the accused professional will benefit from the assistance of an attorney. Most professional liability insurance policies offer optional coverage to pay the cost of legal counsel in these situations. And in some cases, elected officials may be allowed to establish a defense fund to solicit private donations for this purpose. The hearing will be conducted like other types of administrative hearings. Professionals displeased with the result usually have the right to appeal.

Retaining an Ethics Defense Lawyer

If you have been notified that an ethics complaint has been filed against you, it may feel like your livelihood is in jeopardy. The good news is that, with help from an ethics defense lawyer, the matter can likely be resolved with no permanent consequences to your career. Contact an attorney to find out more.



Know Your Rights!

Ethics Law - US

  • American Medical Association Institute for Ethics - Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA)

    The Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) develops ethics policy for the AMA. Composed of seven practicing physicians, a resident or fellow, and a medical student, the Council prepares reports that analyze and address timely ethical issues that confront physicians and the medical profession.

  • George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior

    By age sixteen, Washington had copied out by hand, 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. They are based on a set of rules composed by French Jesuits in 1595. Presumably they were copied out as part of an exercise in penmanship assigned by young Washington's schoolmaster. The first English translation of the French rules appeared in 1640, and are ascribed to Francis Hawkins the twelve-year-old son of a doctor.

  • Office of Government Ethics - Government Ethics Reauthorization Act

    The Office of Government Ethics (OGE), a small agency within the executive branch, was established by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. Originally part of the Office of Personnel Management, OGE became a separate agency on October 1, 1989 as part of the Office of Government Ethics Reauthorization Act of 1988. The Office of Government Ethics exercises leadership in the executive branch to prevent conflicts of interest on the part of Government employees, and to resolve those conflicts of interest that do occur. In partnership with executive branch agencies and departments, OGE fosters high ethical standards for employees and strengthens the public's confidence that the Government's business is conducted with impartiality and integrity.

  • Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

    The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues advises the President on bioethical issues that may emerge from advances in biomedicine and related areas of science and technology. The Commission works with the goal of identifying and promoting policies and practices that ensure scientific research, health care delivery, and technological innovation are conducted in an ethically responsible manner.

  • Professional Ethics - Definition

    Professional ethics concerns the moral issues that arise because of the specialist knowledge that professionals attain, and how the use of this knowledge should be governed when providing a service to the public.

  • Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) - Code of Ethics

    Chartered in 1947, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is the world’s largest and foremost organization of public relations professionals. PRSA provides professional development, sets standards of excellence and upholds principles of ethics for its members and, more broadly, the multi-billion dollar global public relations profession. We also advocate for greater understanding and adoption of public relations services, and act as one of the industry’s leading voices on the important business and professional issues of our time.

  • USDA - Executive Branch Ethics Program

    The following compendium of laws, regulations and guidelines govern the Executive Branch-wide ethics program. The Department is promulgating its own supplemental ethics regulations to augment these, and they too are accessible from this page for ready reference. Because of the variety of ethics environments within USDA, several rulemakings will be required to address all of our program-specific ethics regulations.

Organizations Related to Ethics Law

  • Air University - Military Leadership, Ethics, and Command Central

    We invite you to use this resource to understand the ethical standards that apply to every DoD employee, both civilian and military." "The General Counsel is also the DoD Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO) who oversees the ethics and standards of conduct programs throughout DoD, including providing guidance to the Army, Navy, Air Force, and DoD Agencies."

  • American Society for Law, Medicine, and Ethics

    With roots extending back to 1911, ASLME is a nonprofit educational organization. Our mission is to provide high-quality scholarship, debate, and critical thought for professionals at the intersection of law, medicine, and ethics. Our members come together to examine big health questions with far-reaching social ramifications . like genetic testing and research, medical record privacy, end-of-life decisions, and the dynamics of informed consent. We believe our greatest strength is our multidisciplinary focus.

  • American Statistical Association - Committee on Professional Ethics

    This document contains two parts: I. Preamble and II. Ethical Guidelines. The Preamble addresses A. Purpose of the Guidelines, B. Statistics and Society, and C. Shared Values. The purpose of the document is to encourage ethical and effective statistical work in morally conducive working environments. It is also intended to assist students in learning to perform statistical work responsibly. Statistics plays a vital role in many aspects of science, the economy, governance, and even entertainment. It is important that all statistical practitioners recognize their potential impact on the broader society and the attendant ethical obligations to perform their work responsibly. Furthermore, practitioners are encouraged to exercise "good professional citizenship" in order to improve the public climate for, understanding of, and respect for the use of statistics throughout its range of applications.

  • Association for Practical and Professional Ethics

    The Association for Practical and Professional Ethics was founded in 1991 with support from Indiana University and the Lilly Endowment to encourage interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching of high quality in practical and professional ethics by educators and practitioners who appreciate the practical-theoretical aspects of their subjects. The Association facilitates communication and joint ventures among centers, schools, colleges, business and nonprofit organizations and individuals concerned with the interdisciplinary study and teaching of practical and professional ethics. For a copy of the Charter of the Association,

  • Carnegie Council - Ethics in International Affairs

    Where does one go for guidance on the great moral issues of war, peace, and social justice? Religious institutions, schools, and moral leaders all play their indispensable roles. Yet there is no hub, no focal point, and no single place of reference to send an inquiry or consult with the world's experts. The Carnegie Council answers this call. Through our programs, our publications, and our websites, we aim to be the world's central address for ethical decision in international affairs.

  • Caux Round Table (CRT)

    The Caux Round Table (CRT) is an international network of principled business leaders working to promote a moral capitalism. The CRT advocates implementation of the CRT Principles for Business through which principled capitalism can flourish and sustainable and socially responsible prosperity can become the foundation for a fair, free and transparent global society.

  • Government Accountability Project

    The Government Accountability Project’s mission is to promote corporate and government accountability by protecting whistleblowers, advancing occupational free speech, and empowering citizen activists.

  • Institute for Global Ethics (IGE)

    Founded in 1990, the Institute for Global Ethics (IGE) is an independent, nonsectarian, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting ethical action in a global context. Our challenge is to explore the global common ground of values, elevate awareness of ethics, provide practical tools for making ethical decisions, and encourage moral actions based on those decisions.

  • International Society for Military Ethics

    For years simply an informal meeting of interested parties, ISME in 2005 incorporated as a non-profit organization. The new structure allows ISME to more easily collect conference fees and pay its expenses. Nevertheless, it still exists solely in virtue of its members' commitment to professional military ethics

  • Josephson Institute - Ethical Commitment

    Josephson Institute develops and delivers services and materials to increase ethical commitment, competence, and practice in all segments of society. A nonpartisan and nonsectarian 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the Institute is funded by individual donations, foundation and corporate grants, fees and contributions for services, and sales of publications, curricular materials, and other products. The Institute also works collaboratively with influential organizations and individuals in a variety of fields.

  • NSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers

    Engineering is an important and learned profession. As members of this profession, engineers are expected to exhibit the highest standards of honesty and integrity. Engineering has a direct and vital impact on the quality of life for all people. Accordingly, the services provided by engineers require honesty, impartiality, fairness, and equity, and must be dedicated to the protection of the public health, safety, and welfare. Engineers must perform under a standard of professional behavior that requires adherence to the highest principles of ethical conduct.

  • Society of Professional Journalists - Code of Ethics

    Closely organized around the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics — the news industry's widely accepted "gold standard" of journalism principles — this updated edition uses real-life case studies to demonstrate how journalism students and professionals can identify and reason through ethical dilemmas. Stressing the cross-platform viability of basic ethical principles, this study features a wide selection of case studies penned by professional journalists — including several new additions — that offer examples of thoughtful, powerful, and principled reporting.

Publications Related to Ethics Law

  • Business Ethics - Magazine of Corporate Responsibility

    Business Ethics is an online magazine with a strong heritage in the fields of ethics, governance, corporate responsibility and socially responsible investing. Now available only on the web, Business Ethics was launched in 1987 and published for 20 years as a quarterly print magazine. The mission of Business Ethics – now, as then – is “to promote ethical business practices, to serve that growing community of professionals and individuals striving to work and invest in responsible ways.”

  • Ethics Resource Center (ERC) - Partner Publications

    ERC strives to continually be a prime resource for important research in the ethics and compliance field. Here ERC will continue to compile publications from our various parters.

  • Free Management Library - Guide to Ethics Management

    This guide is a straightforward and highly practical tool designed to help leaders and managers implement comprehensive ethics management systems in their workplaces -- systems to deal with the complex, ethical issues that can occur in the day-to-day realities of leading and managing an organization.

  • Journal of Medical Ethics

    Journal of Medical Ethics is a leading international journal that reflects the whole field of medical ethics. The journal seeks to promote ethical reflection and conduct in scientific research and medical practice. It features original, full length articles on ethical aspects of health care, as well as brief reports, responses, editorials, and other relevant material. To ensure international relevance JME has an Editorial Advisory Board from all around the world.

  • Media Ethics

    Media Ethics is independent. It is editorially eclectic, and the sponsors are not responsible for its content. It strives to provide a forum for opinion and research articles on media ethics, as well as a venue for announcements and reviews of meetings, opportunities, and publications.

Articles on Related to Ethics Law

  • Employee Social Behavior: The New Business Environment
    There is unease and confusion among both people in the workforce and business leaders over the changing nature of labor law, and developing changes in employer-employee relationships.
  • Car Dealership Dishonest Loan Application Tactics, Can I Report This?
    When contacting a car dealership for the first time, the individual may face illegal practices and unethical methods that attract and engage the person into buying or leasing a car. However, it is often that these processes cause the new owner financial difficulty when he or she cannot make the payments each month based on false wage details.
  • Potential Liabilities Associated with Alcoholic Consumption at Employer-Sponsored Events
    While an employer's potential liability for injuries caused by employees who consume alcohol at company holiday functions varies from state to state, possible theories of liability include negligence, respondeat superior( where an employer becomes liable for the actions of his employee while that employee is in the course of employment) and social host or dram shop liability.
  • Policies on How Employees and Supervisors Communicate
    There are policies governing employee and supervisor communication for reasons of productivity, and there are policies with bases of legal protection. The most common sense action is to put it all in writing and enforce it all uniformly.
  • Nursing License Suspended Due to Disciplinary Action: Renewal with Legal Assistance
    When a professional must go through a disciplinary meeting because an issue has arisen that causes his or her license suspension, he or she may require months of fighting this for the license renewal. It is important to understand how to progress through these processes and what this means for the nurse.
  • Standard Nursing Obligations for Care
    Nurses are held to a higher standard than other professionals because they deal with patients on a constant basis, and their actions could lead to injury or death to someone if they are not careful. These obligations that nurses should carry out affect the health and wellbeing of many different individuals each day.
  • Ethical Standards of the Professional
    Professionals must follow a code of ethics that applies to how the client or customer is treated to how marketing advertises services, and these principles are what the individual seeks to emulate in daily life. However, if ethical standards are not adhered to, the professional could find himself or herself in danger of license suspension or revocation.
  • Ethical Violations by School Counselors: Loss of Custody, Defamation, and other Penalties
    Some parents may find themselves on the receiving end of false allegations of child abuse or neglect. Sometimes these reports originate from school or therapists. If a parent discovers that there may have been collusion to make a false report or that the reporter had a conflict that puts his or her credibility in question, the parent may wonder what recourse may be available.
  • Reducing Litigation by Providing Client Satisfaction
    For professionals that owe their clients a duty of service, it is best to ensure client satisfaction is achieved. By providing this, these individuals are able to usually reduce possible litigation and prevent lawsuits from arising constantly with persons that hire them.
  • Ethics Codes for Police
    Most police officers enter the force highly motivated and enthusiastic with a true desire to serve the public.
  • All Ethics Law Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Ethics including: legal ethics, legal malpractice, premises liability, product liability, professional liability, professional malpractice, professional responsibility.

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