Implementing duty of care and ethical behaviour standards
Implement procedures to ensure all services and responses to clients comply with duty of care and accepted standards of ethical behaviour.
Duty of care requires that an acceptable standard of care that is ‘reasonably practicable’ be provided to ensure the health and safety of those at the workplace and also to those affected by the work that you do. Therefore, any services and responses to clients must comply with this duty of care and fall within the accepted standards outlined in your Code of Conduct.
Community and disability services workers often face many ethical dilemmas in their day-to-day work with clients. Examples include:
- deciding whether to accept a gift from a grateful client
- deciding how to respond to a request for out-of-work hours contact with a client
- deciding whether to notify about a crime which a client has told you about
- dealing with a young client’s request for a cigarette
- deciding what to do about a client’s dishonesty in not declaring their employment income to Centrelink
- deciding what to do about a co-worker’s inappropriate use of agency resources.
In order to respond effectively to dilemmas like these, you need to be given clear guidelines for your work; these guidelines are usually contained within the policy and procedures of your organisation. All workers should be introduced to these at their induction.
Professional supervision is another avenue where critical decision-making problems can be discussed and resolved. Most effective organisations have a clear process for supervising their staff; regular supervision sessions are scheduled into a worker’s timetable. If you are in an agency where this does not happen, it is your right as an employee to seek guidance from your supervisors on any matters where there are no clear-cut guidelines.
It is important for workers to raise these issues within the staff environment as many other workers may be facing the same problems; consultation might signal the need for a new or revised policy to deal with the issue.
Duty of care
If a matter is taken to court, the factors considered in determining negligence are:
- Does one person owe a legal duty of care to another?
- Has there been a breach of that duty of care?
- Has damage or injury resulted from the breach of duty of care?
The way the court interprets the decision will depend on a range of factors and circumstances, including the following:
- what would be expected of a ‘reasonable’ person in the same situation
- the worker’s roles and responsibilities within the organisation
- the training and experience of the worker
- the practicalities of the situation
- current community values about acceptable practice
- standards generally seen as applicable to the situation
- other relevant laws such as the Workplace Health and Safety Act
- meeting legislative and other procedural requirements
When working with clients, you and your agency need to be very aware of any legal and other responsibilities that must be followed. These responsibilities could include:
- Statutory requirements of clients, such as those relating to
- Protection requirements (e.g. Who they can and can’t see or live with, Restraining Orders.)
- court orders and any special conditions.
- Reporting (e.g. Mandatory Reporting, who to report to, how to report)
- Temporary Protection Visas (for people seeking asylum in Australia).
- Funding Service Agreements. (The responsibility of the agency regarding use of that funding, e.g. the agency’s role in supporting clients at risk.)
- meeting the health and safety requirements of workers and users of agency programs (Workplace Health and Safety Act requirements)
- agency and/or departmental regulations and guidelines (policies and procedures)
- providing inclusive programs that do not discriminate against those from other cultural backgrounds or who have special requirements because of a disability, etc.
Confidentiality relating to the release of information about clients is a major requirement under the Privacy Act Amendment 2000 (and agency guidelines based on this Act). However, The Child Protection Act also has specific provisions regarding confidentiality of information about a child in care, or families who are clients of the departments of Child Safety, Communities, etc. (See Part 6, s5. 185–194.)
Your agency policies and procedures are very likely to provide you with:
- direction for consistent organisational requirements
- clear steps you must follow to ensure consistency of action
- direct links between current legislation and practice principles
- a ‘whole of system’ approach to acting in a reasonable and responsible manner across all service delivery by the agency
- a context for ongoing organisational improvement towards continued best practice.
Government policy, agency standards and procedures are all relevant to understanding your role and responsibilities. It is important to research the relevant legislation, policy and procedures and identify what information you must provide to clients and significant others.
The following are summaries of some of the major Queensland and federal family law Acts relating to the particular clientele and target groups of your agency.
All of this legislation is fundamental to the work of support workers and, in your role as a support worker, you need to be very aware how particular legislation relates to the particular clients you work with in your agency (e.g. the Mental Health Act and people who have mental health issues).
Support workers often work with very disturbed and sometimes dysfunctional clients. Workers therefore need to have confidence in themselves, in their work role, clarity about what they can offer within the role and the boundaries of that role in order to provide the highest possible service.
When you work in client service delivery, you need to be aware of the rights of your client. Many organisations prepare a clear outline of the rights of clients accessing their service and they give these to their clients at the outset of their service delivery.
Check the appropriate legislation and the procedures of your agency to identify any specific rights of clients in that agency and any specific obligations on you. The following figure shows you ways to support your clients’ rights.
Think of a client with whom you or a colleague have worked, whose rights have not been safeguarded by your organisation, a different service or their family/friends. Reflect on this person’s situation and answer the following questions:
- What was this client’s situation? What rights were not upheld?
- What legal power do you or your agency have to intervene in a situation like this?
- What obligations do you have to exercise these powers?
- What responsibilities do clients have in this situation?
- What consequences are there when workers and clients do not fulfil their responsibilities?
- What processes must be followed in your organisation to deal with these issues?
- The client may have had his personal confidential information shared with his neighbours by another worker at your office. His right to privacy was not upheld.
- Under the Privacy Act and the Code of Conduct of your organisation, this worker has acted improperly and he should be disciplined. (The client could in fact take legal action for breach of the privacy legislation; however, that is an unlikely outcome.)
- If the client makes a complaint to you, you have the obligation to inform him of the grievance procedure for your agency and refer him to your supervisor. It is not your responsibility to take sides or to investigate the case unless that is within your identified role.
- The client has the responsibility to follow the correct grievance processes outlined by your agency if they wish to redress the situation appropriately.
- An example like this one prevents the client from trusting the agency. This then reflects on all workers, not just the one who was negligent.