Ethics are both personal and administrative. Your personal ethics may be one thing, whereas the ethics you are required to follow under the guidelines set forth by the American Nursing Association or by the National Paralegal Association, may conflict with your own morality Nevertheless, you have a duty to follow such ethics parameters if you want to keep your job and avoid being sued for malpractice or violating confidentiality provisions.
While this article focuses on paralegal and medical professionals, many of these principles are also highly relevant within any situation where you are handling someone’s private information. Here are my top 11 ways to avoid violating professional ethics guidelines:
1. Study- If you are a nurse, study the ANA handbook. If you are a paralegal, study the NPA‘s handbook regarding ethics. Also, study the individual company policies provided to you once hired by a company provided to you at orientation. What you don’t know can get you killed!
2. Don’t Gossip: Clients are going to approach you with all sorts of embarrassing stories about their lives. Medical conditions, legal issues, stories of infidelity, infertility, and other stomach turning scenarios will be common place in any area of client relations. You must handle these scenarios with care. If you wouldn’t want it to be shared with the public, then its safe to assume that your client wouldn’t either. Practice empathy, and put yourself in their shoes.
3. Be mindful of eavesdropping: When speaking to a client on the phone or in person, be sure that these conversations are done so in a quiet, secure, and private area. If these conversations are accidentally heard by a third party, it could result in negative consequences.
4. Secure documents: Any paperwork relating to company secrets or client information shouldn’t lay around openly for passerbyers to see. Such documents should also be shredded, not crumpled up in a trash bin. Identity thieves and spies are everywhere. Do not make their jobs easier by mishandling documents.
5. Do not administer actions without permission: Unless you are directed by a licensed doctor or lawyer, nurses and paralegals are NOT allowed to give a personalized diagnosis, legal advice, or administer treatment. Nurses and Paralegals must also refrain from taking action when the client does not consent. Paralegals and nurses are “foot-soldiers”. We are to operate mostly by direct command, and rarely act independently, and even when we do, we are highly monitored.
6. Avoid the media: Addressing the media in regards to a client or the company you work for without authorization is a big NO-NO. You run the risk of defamation, releasing company trade-secrets, and other legal consequences.
7. Don’t be an accomplice: If you see your supervising Doctor or attorney doing something highly unethical or illegal, you have the right to speak up and file a report with the authorities. Do not become an accomplice to illegal activity.
8. Think twice before becoming a rouge: Becoming a whistleblower or acting on your own because it “feels right”, could make you go down in history as a brave hero and save lives, however, it will not be without consequences. Acting outside of your assigned role, even if it saves a life could still cost you your job or open you up for a malpractice lawsuit or legal sanctions. Before you try to become the next Edward Snowden, remember, there will be consequences.
9. Stay up to date: Ethics guidelines are subject to change. Most nurses and paralegals are required or encouraged to attend furthering education courses or “refresher courses”. These could serve you well so that you do not fall out of the loop for current industry standards.
10. Pledge your loyalty to your client: Your job is to be an advocate for your client and an assistant to your superior. Embrace this role fully! If you think an alternative remedy is in order, express this to your supervising Doctor or Attorney. Do this away from the client in order to protect the honor of your supervisor as to not undermine him. Also, do not conspire or speak with any outside forces who may work against the interests of your client and/or employer. You are being paid for such loyalty. Any actions you take which could be interpreted as being “disloyal” to either the client or your employer, could result in termination or a lawsuit.
11. Swallow your pride: Paralegals and Nurses should take great care in picking a field or concentrated area that lines up with their conscious. If you cannot fathom defending a murderer or thief, you may want to stay away from criminal law and try bankruptcy law instead. You can also ask to be removed from certain cases or refuse to work with certain clients who make you feel uncomfortable. However, regardless of how hard you try to manage your career, you will ultimately be forced to take actions that go against your own personal beliefs. It’s the nature of any business and something all employees must learn to accept. Do your best to minimize such circumstances but also learn how to justify such actions if absolutely necessary. Those who fail to rationalize their jobs will fall victim to alcoholism and other unhealthy coping methods if they do not learn how to cope naturally. Legal and medical professionals will benefit greatly from having a support system in friends and family.
The philosophy and administrative guidelines that govern the idea of “ethics” can get very complicated. If you are unsure about whether or not you may be violating your company’s standards of ethics, it never hurts to ask!