Guidelines for Responding to a Complaint of an Alleged Violation of the ASHA Code of Ethics
This information is provided for individuals who have been advised by ASHA that a complaint has been filed against them alleging that they have violated the ASHA Code of Ethics.
Enforcement of the Code of Ethics
The Board of Ethics (BOE) is charged by the Bylaws of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association with the responsibility to interpret, administer, and enforce the Code of Ethics of the Association. A fundamental precept that guides the BOE in the discharge of its responsibility is that an effective Code of Ethics requires an orderly and fair administration and enforcement of its terms and requires full compliance by all members of the Association and all holders of Certificates of Clinical Competence. The BOE recognizes that each case must be judged on an individual basis, and that no two cases are likely to be identical. Thus, the Board of Ethics has the responsibility to exercise its judgment on the merits of each case and on its interpretation of the Code.
See Code of Ethics, Practices and Procedures of the Board of Ethics, and Ethics Resources for additional ethics-related information.
How are ethics complaints filed?
Anyone who believes that an ASHA member or holder of the Certificates of Clinical Competence has violated the ASHA Code of Ethics may file a complaint against that individual. In addition, the BOE itself can initiate a complaint based on information that is part of a public record, such as actions taken against an individual by courts or regulatory bodies and information published in advertisements, newspapers, and websites.
Complaints of alleged violations of the Code of Ethics must be submitted in writing in accordance with ASHA's Ethics Complaint Adjudication Process. The completed complaint form must include a written attachment that includes the information and facts on which the complaint is based and any additional documentation and other evidence that corroborates and supports the allegations. The complaint must be in writing and mailed to the address provided on the complaint form. The BOE does not accept anonymous complaints, nor does it accept complaints filed via e-mail or facsimile.
How are individuals notified that a complaint of an alleged code violation has been filed against them?
Once a complaint is submitted in accordance with the complaint filing procedures and is determined to be within the jurisdiction of the BOE, the Director of Ethics sends a notification letter, on behalf of the BOE, to the individual named in the complaint (the Respondent) along with a copy of the complaint and all attachments submitted by the initiator of the complaint (the Complainant) and a copy of the Code of Ethics and Statement of Practices and Procedures of the Board of Ethics.
Responding to a Complaint
What do I do if I am notified by ASHA that an ethics complaint has been filed against me?
You, as the Respondent in the matter, will have 45 days to submit a response to the complaint. It is very important that you submit a response to ensure that the BOE has all of the relevant information it needs in order to adjudicate the matter fairly. Even if you acknowledge that you violated the code, submitting a response indicating your awareness of the matter and, if appropriate, an explanation of any possible mitigating factors, will help the board determine the appropriate sanction if it determines that there was a code violation.
Failure to respond to a complaint may be construed as a violation of Principle IV, Rule N, of the Code of Ethics, which states, "Individuals shall comply fully with the policies of the Board of Ethics in its consideration and adjudication of complaints of violations of the Code of Ethics."
What should my response include?
Your response should address each allegation (stated or implied) made by the Complainant. If you do not believe that you violated the code, you should provide any documentation that you believe would refute the Complainant's claims. If you acknowledge that you did violate the code, you should let the board know of any circumstances that led to the violation and/or what steps you have taken to ensure that it will not happen again.
The Board of Ethics relies on the information provided by the Complainant and Respondent in each case. Therefore, it is imperative that you provide the board with all the facts and evidence you have to support your response and wish the board to consider in its deliberations.
Facts and evidence to be provided in your response may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Your response to each allegation made by the Complainant
- Descriptions and copies of any communications with the Complainant and others regarding this incident
- Signed and dated witness statements
- Copies of all other materials and evidence that refute the Complainant's claims and/or corroborate and support your response
- Descriptions and dates of actions taken, if any, to try to mitigate or rectify the situation
Note: If any documents containing confidential information, such as client/patient/employment records, are submitted to substantiate your response, be sure to redact all identifying information (names, social security numbers, etc.). If you need to refer to a specific record you may assign letter or number codes in place of the redacted identifying information (for example, Client A, Patient B).
In order to facilitate our copying of documents to be provided to the members of the Board of Ethics,
- Do not use staples.
- Do not use color fonts or highlighting/shading. If you wish to emphasize specific content, we suggest you underline, circle, or box the facts or evidence you wish to draw to the board's attention.
- Do not hole-punch the materials.
- Do not submit two-sided documents. If you have documentation that is printed on both sides, re-copy it as single-sided pages
Send your response and accompanying documentation in an envelope marked CONFIDENTIAL, to:
Heather Bupp, Esq.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
2200 Research Boulevard #309
Rockville, MD 20850-3289
How does the fact that a complaint has been filed against me affect my status during the adjudication process?
There is no change in your ASHA membership or ASHA certification status during the time the matter is being adjudicated. A sanction affecting your ASHA status will not go into effect until the BOE issues its Final Decision in the matter, nor does the board provide any information about the complaint to any individuals, organizations, or agencies until after the board's Final Decision is issued. (See below for details on disclosure of information after a Final Decision is issued.)
After Your Response Is Filed
What happens after I submit my response?
The complaint and your response will be provided to all members of the BOE for consideration at the next scheduled BOE meeting. The board will consider all evidence submitted by the Complainant and the Respondent and reach an Initial Determination, which will be sent to you shortly after the meeting. The determination may be that there was insufficient evidence that a violation of the code occurred or that there was a violation.
How long does the adjudication process take?
The provision of due process, the time permitted for responses, and the right to appeal adverse decisions interact with the board's yearly meeting schedule in such a fashion that the average case takes approximately six to twelve months to reach conclusion (if an appeal to the Association's Board of Directors is not involved). The Board of Ethics issues its Final Decision after all appeals are either exhausted or waived.
What happens if the BOE finds insufficient evidence that a code violation occurred?
If the board determines that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that a code violation occurred, you, your legal counsel (if applicable), and the Complainant will be notified of the board's determination as a Final Decision, and the matter will be considered closed.
Appeal Rights for Individuals Found in Violation of Code of Ethics
What happens if the BOE's Initial Determination is that a code violation occurred and I think the board erred or that the sanction is not appropriate for the violation?
If the board determines that a violation occurred, it will specify which Rules of Ethics were violated and propose one of the following sanctions: Reprimand; Censure; Withholding, Suspension, or Revocation of Membership and/or the Certificate(s) of Clinical Competence. You will be notified of the board's decision shortly after the meeting, and you will then have 30 days to submit a request for a Further Consideration Hearing (i.e., first-level appeal).
If you request Further Consideration, the hearing will be conducted at the next scheduled BOE meeting. You may submit a brief and any additional evidence and documentation for the board's consideration, and you also have the opportunity to participate in the hearing by telephone or in person. Participating in the hearing, either by phone or in person allows the board to ask specific questions of you that may help them with their decision. If you wish to retain legal counsel at your sole expense, the attorney may submit the brief on your behalf and participate with you at the hearing. The board will then conduct deliberations on the matter and either affirm its Initial Determination or amend its finding regarding the code provisions violated and/or the proposed sanction. The Further Consideration Determination will be mailed to you shortly after the meeting.
If you do not request Further Consideration within 30 days of the date of the Initial Determination, the initial decision will be issued as a Final Decision. (See Disclosure of BOE Actions below.)
What happens if the BOE, upon Further Consideration, determines that there was insufficient evidence that a code violation occurred?
If the information presented at the Further Consideration Hearing results in the board's amending its Initial Determination and finds that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that a code violation occurred, you and the Complainant will be notified of the board's determination as a Final Decision, and the matter will be considered closed.
What happens if the BOE, upon Further Consideration, affirms its original determination or amends it, but still finds that a code violation occurred?
If the information presented at the Further Consideration Hearing results in the board's affirming its Initial Determination and proposed sanction, or amends its initial finding regarding the code provisions violated and/or the proposed sanction, you will be notified of the board's decision shortly after the meeting.
If you believe that in adjudicating the matter, the board did not follow its procedures and/or that its decision was arbitrary and capricious and without any evidentiary basis, you may appeal the Board of Ethics Further Consideration Decision to ASHA's Board of Directors (i.e., final appeal). The request for this appeal must be received by the Board of Ethics within 30 days after the date of the Further Consideration Decision. The Board of Directors Appeals Panel will not receive or consider any evidentiary matters that were not included in the official record of the Further Consideration Decision. If the Board of Directors Appeal Panel determines that the BOE did follow its procedures and that the decision was not arbitrary and capricious, the Further Consideration Decision will become final. If the Board of Directors Appeal determines that the BOE did not follow its procedures and/or its decision was arbitrary and capricious, the matter will be sent back to the BOE for reconsideration.
If you do not request an appeal to the Board of Directors within 30 days of the date of the Further Consideration Decision, the Further Consideration Decision becomes final, and a copy of the Final Decision will be provided to you.
Who will be notified of the BOE's Final Decision?
If the Final Decision is a finding that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that a violation occurred, the decision is provided to you, your legal counsel (if applicable) and the Complainant only.
If the Final Decision is a finding that a violation occurred and the sanction is Reprimand, it will be disclosed only to you, your legal counsel (if applicable), the Complainant, and when appropriate, to staff and Association counsel, each of whom shall be advised that the decision is strictly confidential.
If there is a finding that a violation occurred and the sanction is Censure or Withholding, Suspension, or Revocation of Membership and/or the Certificate(s) of Clinical Competence, the decision will be disclosed as follows:
- The decision will be published in ASHA publication distributed to all of the membership (currently The ASHA Leader), and provided to any person or entity requesting a copy of the decision.
- The Board of Ethics may also provide its Final Decision and relevant case information to any state agency providing a license to the Respondent, or to which the Respondent has applied for license or other credential; to any other professional organization that enforces a code of ethics or a code of professional conduct of which the Respondent is a member or is an applicant for membership; as required by law.
Questions and Further Information
What if I have questions about the complaint filed against me?
If you have questions about the specific complaint filed against you, please contact Heather Bupp, Esq., director of ethics, at 800-498-2071, ext. 5785 (members) or 800-638-8255, ext. 5785 (consumers). If you have questions about the overall complaint adjudication process, contact Heather Bupp as noted above or Lorraine Lennon, ethics program manager, at 800-498-2071, ext. 5763 (members) or 800-638-8255, ext. 5763 (consumers). General questions about the process may also be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.