The American Speech-Language Hearing Association ("ASHA" or "the Association") has been committed to a framework of common principles and standards of practice since ASHA's inception in 1925. This commitment was formalized in 1952 in a separate document that was ASHA's first formal Code of Ethics for audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and speech, language, and hearing scientists.
The Code of Ethics has been modified and adapted as society and the professions have changed. The Code of Ethics' Preamble states that it is "partly obligitory and disciplinary and partly aspirational and discriptive in that it defines the professional's role." It does not contain solutions to specific situations or problems, but is designed to provide guidance to members and certified individuals as they make professional decisions. The Code of Ethics reflects what we value as professionals and established expectations based on principles of duty, fairness, and responsibility. It is intended to ensure the welfare of the consumer and to protect the reputation and integrity of the professions.
The Assistants Code of Conduct ("Code of Conduct") applies to ASHA-certified audiology assistants and speech-language pathology assistants (SLPAs). Because the Code of Conduct is not intended to address specific situations and is not inclusive of all possible conduct-related ethical dilemmas, assistants are expected to follow the written provisions and to uphold the spirit and purpose of the Code of Conduct. Audiology assistants and SLPAs are encouraged to seek additional advice or consultation in instances where the guidance of the Code of Conduct may not be definitive. The Code of Conduct establishes that assistants are not independent practitioners. Accordingly, assistants must be supervised by appropriately-credentialed audiologists or speech-language pathologists (SLPs) consistent with state licensing laws and/or with the Code of Ethics.
In part, the Codes were established to inspire members and certified individuals to achieve and maintain the highest level of competence and to behave in ways that would maintain the highest standards of integrity and ethical principles. This inspirational behavior is not intended to be discretionary, but is expected of all members and/or certificate holders, and certified assistants. ASHA is committed to the enforcement of its Codes. Self-regulation is important in order to build trust and respect for the professions and for assistants, and enforcing the Codes provides additional incentive for individuals make the ethical choice professionally.
ASHA has established the Board of Ethics ("BOE") (ASHA Bylaws, Article VIII — Professional Standards and Ethics) and charged it with the responsibility for maintaining and administering the Codes and with educating individuals regarding their significance.
There are, however, restrictions on the ability of the BOE to enforce the Codes. For example, the jurisdiction of the BOE is limited. The BOE can only adjudicate complaints that are brought against individuals under its jurisdiction, but it accepts complaints for adjudication from a variety of individuals who are not members including consumers, employers, and students.
Additionally, the BOE does not actively initiate investigations because it does not have the investigative powers that entities such as state licensure boards do. For example, the BOE does not have subpoena power and cannot compel witnesses to testify or produce evidentiary documents.
Each member, certificate holder, and certified assistant has a personal responsibility in the enforcement of the Codes by monitoring their own actions and those of others. This responsibility is included and defined in the Code of Ethics' Principle IV, Rules M and N, and the Code of Conduct's Conduct of Fundamentals H and I. Members, certificate holders, and certified assistants help the BOE in enforcement of the Codes by filing formal complaints against members, certificate holders, and certified assistants when they have information and evidence of their belief that a violation of either of the Codes has occurred.
The BOE is a semi-autonomous, impartial adjudicative body within the Association that has been charged with independently administering and enforcing the Code of Ethics and the Code of Conduct, and it has established a complaint process that is clearly outlined within the Practices and Procedures of the Board of Ethics (2020). This information is easily accessible to individuals via the Ethics Resources webpage of ASHA website or by contacting the Ethics staff at ASHA National Office for assistance. Although the process for filing a complaint or responding to a complaint is not onerous, individual guidance is available to those requesting it through ASHA's Ethics program at email@example.com.
The process for adjudication of complaints has been designed to ensure fairness and to allow for due process. Individuals accused of violating either of the Codes (Respondents) are provided the opportunity to respond to the allegations against them and to seek further review of, and appeal, adverse decisions. This right to due process is an important reason that the BOE will not accept anonymous complaints or agree to keep confidential and not disclose the identity of the individual filing the complaint (Complainant) to the person complained against. The Respondent needs to know the identity of the Complainant in order to present and defend against an alleged violation, and it is less likely that frivolous or malicious complaints will be filed if the Complainant is known. Finally, the BOE is better able to determine the veracity and credibility of evidence submitted if the source of that evidence is known.
The BOE will only consider the evidence provided by Complainants and Respondents to reach its decision. No information about the complaint is provided to any individuals, organizations, or agencies while it is being adjudicated. If the BOE determines that insufficient evidence exists to support a violation of either of the Codes, the Respondent and the Complainant will be notified of the BOE's determination as a Final Decision, and the matter will be considered closed. If the individual is found to be in violation, the BOE will specify which Code was violated and determine a sanction.
The sanction imposed by the BOE may be private or public. Public sanctions impose a significant penalty for the breach of ethical behavior and may serve as a way to educate all members and perhaps rehabilitate the individual in violation. Sanctions also demonstrate to other ASHA members that the Codes are important and that the Association's BOE is willing to enforce its standards. Sanctions include but are not limited to: Written warning (private); Reprimand (private); Censure (a public reprimand); or Suspension, Revocation, or Withholding of membership and/or certification for a period of years.
The importance of an ethical code for a profession cannot be underestimated. The Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct serve as a framework and focused guide for professionals and assistants in support of day-to-day decision making regarding ethical conduct. The Codes also serve to clarify the Association's mission, values, and principles. With the active participation of members, certificate holders, and certified assistants, the BOE works to enforce ASHA's Codes. The Codes and their enforcement results in respect for the professions and positive outcomes for individuals who benefit from the work of certified audiologists, speech-language pathologists, speech, language and hearing scientists, and assistants.