Ethical Behaviour -Disclosure of information

Legal principles regarding disclosure of information.

CPD Assessments
Ethical Behaviour - Disclosure of information

Ethical Behaviour - Disclosure of information

Introduction

Practitioners take privacy very seriously and confidentiality is a central part of the code of ethics. Practitioners understand that for people to feel comfortable talking about private and revealing information, they need to see the practitioner's office as a place where they can talk about anything they like, without fear of that information leaving the room.

During your first visit, the practitioner explains your privacy rights and his or her policies regarding how your personal information will be handled. The practitioner's policies will also explain in which instances the client's personal information might have to be shared. 

Case study

Steve has been working for SA Timber for five years on contract. For the past four years, his contract was renewed annually. Steve worked hard and people relied on his ability to deliver. Steve had been having some personal problems for the past year and this resulted in him becoming aggressive at work.

His colleagues had reported that it was becoming difficult to work with him because he was explosive when things did not go his way. Human Resources (HR) referred Steve to the Career Development practitioner, Tammy, because they had decided not to renew Steve's contract this year.

HR had suggested that Tammy assist Steve on a career path and options outside of SA Timber. Steve meets with Tammy and she notes that he is really down. He barely responds at first and then starts talking about being a failure. Tammy knows that Steve needs to see a psychologist or psychiatrist to deal with this issue. Tammy gently suggests this to Steve and he becomes aggressive, saying that he will be waiting in the car park with his gun to "sort out the people who got rid of him". He storms out of the office and the building.

Tammy immediately calls HR to inform them of Steve's intent to harm co-workers who he thinks were responsible for his contract not being renewed.

From the case study above, Tammy broke confidentiality rules. Why do you think she did this?

What is client confidentiality?

Confidentiality deals with the whole process of a session, even the fact that the client has made an appointment for a session. An example might be that the practitioner does not acknowledge a client in a shopping mall to protect the client.  Other ways confidentiality is protected include:

  • Not sending any revealing information via voicemail or text.
  • Not discussing or mentioning to third parties that a client has an appointment with you.
  • Not discussing the contents of a session with a third party without the permission of the client.
Exceptions to confidentiality rules

Confidentiality is something that a practitioner should pride themselves on. There are, however, those instances where information shared during the session might have to be shared with a third party (the legal system or another professional). 

Practitioners can break confidentiality in some circumstances. The most common instance for breaking confidentiality is when a client is a threat to themselves or others, in which case a practitioner must notify the person in danger or notify someone who can keep the client or others safe (as highlighted in the case study above).

A practitioner may also be required to break client confidentiality if they believe a child, disabled person or an elderly person is being abused or harmed in any way. For example, if a child has mysterious injuries and acts frightened of their parent, a practitioner may have reasonable suspicion of abuse. They have a legal duty to report their suspicions to authorities.

In some cases, the practitioner can be forced to testify against their clients through a court summons.

Confidentiality for children

Young children or those under the age of 16 years are not considered developed enough to give consent, so parents are asked to give consent on their behalf. 

Confidentiality forms

Before the first session, a practitioner may offer the client paperwork detailing their privacy policy. This information is part of the informed consent document.

Confidentiality forms start with information in a small paragraph informing clients on how the information shared in a session will be kept private and not shared with family members and friends. The form can then list situations when confidentiality may be broken, such as if a person declares suicidal intent.

The extract below is taken from the SACDA website. The document highlights confidentiality rules. 

 
  • Career development practitioners inform clients orally or in writing of the purposes, goals, techniques, policies and ethical standards under which career development and vocational guidance are provided; considering conditions in which consultation with other professionals might occur, and legal or policy constraints which relate to how services are provided.
  • Any limits on confidentiality set by others will be discussed with the client before proceeding to put her/him in a position to choose their level of involvement and personal responses to such limits. Written informed consent (for clients over the age of 16 and competent to participate independently) and/or assent (for clients under the age of 16 and/or not competent to participate independently) forms must be signed by clients for all services, stating that they have been informed of their rights and that they consent/assent to the preconditions of the service.
  • Disclosure of confidential information may happen when a court order is provided. Disclosure of confidential information under other circumstances such as to assist clients with services from other professionals, or when any information can be harmful to the client or to others, must be with the clients expressed written permission. In all instances, clients must be informed beforehand of the circumstances around releasing confidential information and provide their expressed consent/assent thereto. Confidentiality must be upheld during any form of electronic recording via video, photographs, or over the internet and clients must provide written informed consent/assent to these recordings. Career development practitioners must inform themselves and be familiar with and ensure that they adhere to the principles stipulated in the Protection of Personal Information Act, No 4 of 2013 regarding the handling of clients' information.
Conclusion

Practitioners will be privy to private and personal challenges faced by clients. The information must be kept confidential from all other people, even from the client's relatives. If a client discovers that the practitioner revealed personal information without the expressed consent of the client, there can be dire consequences, over and above breaking the trust between a practitioner and client. For example a client may be placed in a vulnerable or risky situation by having others know certain private or personal information. Practitioners must always respect the privacy of the people they are helping. They should never reveal information without specific permission.

It is necessary to have a deep understanding of confidentiality and its impact on the client-practitioner relationship as there are huge implications for practitioners who do not comply with the Code of Ethics.


Authors

Sacda

Karuna Mahadave

Christopher John Beukes