Why ASHA Does Not Accept Anonymous Ethics Complaints

It is not unusual for individuals who are thinking about filing an ethics complaint with ASHA's Board of Ethics to inquire whether they can file the complaint anonymously. Or, in the alternative, to at least not to have their name(s) disclosed to the individual the complaint is about. These are fair questions.

In my experience, individuals who want to file complaints anonymously want to do so for a variety of concerns:

  • The individual they are complaining about may be a colleague at work and they are concerned that filing the complaint will be detrimental to their employment.
  • They may have a vague feeling of uneasiness about whether their allegations of misconduct have sufficient merit to warrant the filing a formal ethics complaint. In other words, there may be some lack of conviction about the information they have and their supporting evidence and that by filing anonymously believe they somehow remove themselves from those concerns.
  • They may live in a small, close-knit community and are afraid of being ostracized by neighbors and friends for filing a complaint.
  • Some worry that by filing a complaint they will be labeled a "whistleblower."
  • If the complainant has a private practice, the concern may be whether filing a complaint will affect referrals to the practice. Individuals do not want to suffer adverse financial consequences for filing a complaint.
  • A frequent concern is that they will be sued for defamation if they file a complaint.

Some of the reasons why ASHA's Board of Ethics will not accept or adjudicate anonymous complaints include:

  • It lessens the likelihood of frivolous complaints or complaints filed with ill-will or malice.
  • Accepting anonymous complaints would make it difficult for the Board of Ethics to assess the veracity of the complainant and the credibility of the facts and evidence on which the complaint is based. Some cases rise or fall on the credibility of the complainant. Therefore, who the complainant is can be critical and, in close cases, the credibility of the complainant can make the difference whether the respondent is found in violation of the Code of Ethics.
  • Sometimes, in order to adequately respond to a complaint, the respondent may wish to provide information about the complainant's bias, prejudice, and/or motive for filing the complaint. For example, an ASHA member terminates an employee and the employee then turns around and files a complaint against the member, alleging some form of professional misconduct. The complaint may or may not be retaliatory in nature, but the respondent should have a right to include in his/her response to the allegations that possibility, and that would not be possible if the complaint was anonymous.
  • ASHA and the Board of Ethics cannot secure records, documents, and other evidentiary materials independently because the Association does not have subpoena power. Therefore, we rely on the complainant to provide these materials, and it would not be appropriate to accept evidence from an unknown source whose credibility cannot be ascertained and/or challenged by the individual against whom the complaint is filed.

Often, I have found the best way to respond to individuals who want to file a complaint anonymously is to have them put the shoe on the other foot. I ask them if they would want to know the identity of the complainant if an ethics complaint was filed against them; invariably, they respond affirmatively, and the reason involves the concept of "fairness." When they look at the situation from the perspective of being the subject of a complaint, they appreciate that the due process they would want to have would include, among other things, to know who filed the complaint against them.

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