ASHA's director of ethics serves as the ex officio member of the Board of Ethics ("Board") and participates fully in the activities of the Board (with the exception of voting). One of the major responsibilities charged to the Board is the formal adjudication of ethics complaints.
Many individuals who file complaints with the Board fail to recognize the limited nature of ASHA's jurisdiction. The Board routinely receives complaints alleging misconduct by individuals, organizations, or institutions that cannot be adjudicated because of lack of jurisdiction. There are two major requirements for the Board to have jurisdiction to adjudicate an ethics complaint. First, the complaint must be against an individual who, at the time the complaint is filed, is either an ASHA member or certificate holder. Clinical Fellows are within the jurisdiction of the Board if they hold the status of "applicant for certification." Second, the individual complained against must have been either a member or certificate holder at the time of the alleged misconduct itself.
The Board encourages individuals to make a good faith effort to solve ethical dilemmas through sound ethical decision making as problems arise—before they mature to a point of a violation mandating the filing of a complaint. However, ethical decision making in difficult situations can be challenging and some individuals do not know how best to do it. To assist members and certificate holders in making appropriate ethical decisions, ASHA Ethics has many resources available.
ASHA's ethics complaint adjudication process does not afford individuals who file complaints (Complainants) a venue to seek a legal remedy against the individual whom they have filed the complaint against. Examples of cases where Complainants have sought remedies include requests that the Board award compensation for an alleged injury, back pay or other forms of employment compensation, and monetary damages for breach of contract. Complainants are not provided any form of compensation or satisfaction of a grievance if the person against whom the complaint is filed (Respondent) is found in violation of the Code of Ethics ("Code").
Some complaints received are clearly the result of a real or imagined personal or professional dispute the Complainant is having with the Respondent. Occasionally, the problem is no more than a situation where reasonable minds differ and the situation could have been resolved in a collegial manner. As stated in Principle IV, Rule O, the Code "shall not be used for personal reprisal, as a means of addressing personal animosity, or as a vehicle for retaliation."
Some try to see a similarity between the adjudication of an ethics complaint and a criminal case before a court of law, but any such similarity is merely a matter of perception. When the Board adjudicates a complaint, no third party appears before the Board in the role of a prosecutor to present the case and argue for a finding of a violation. The practices and procedures of the Board are as nonadversarial as possible. The Board deliberates a complaint and renders its decision based on an objective consideration of the facts and information provided by the Complainant and Respondent.
When a Respondent receives notice that an ethics complaint has been filed against them, they should not wait until the Board issues an Initial Determination of an ethics violation before taking that information seriously. Respondents who feel, for any reason, that they cannot prepare a defense against the allegations in the ethics complaint should consider the assistance of legal counsel. Allegations not answered by the Respondent may be deemed admitted by the Board. An ethics violation carries serious consequences. Depending on how egregious the violation is, the sanction could be revocation of ASHA membership and certification for a period of years or life. Less serious violations can result in a private Reprimand or public Censure.
There are strict time constraints on filing appeals, such as a request for a Further Consideration hearing or an appeal to the Ethics Appeal Panel. A Respondent's written request for Further Consideration must be received by the Board no later than 30 days from the date of notice of the Initial Determination. An appeal to the Ethics Appeal Panel similarly requires the Respondent to file the request within 30 days after the date of notice of the Further Consideration decision. Respondents should keep these time requirements in mind to avoid losing their right to appeal.
The Board has a procedure that affords Respondents an opportunity to petition to the Board for reinstatement of their revoked ASHA membership and/or certification at the conclusion of their revocation period. The petitioner has the burden to prove that the conditions that led to the revocation have been rectified and that they will adhere to the Code of Ethics after application for reinstatement of their certification.