Professional ethics are at the core of social work practice. The NASW Code of Ethics offers a set of values, principles and standards to guide decision-making and everyday professional conduct of social workers. It is relevant to all social workers and social work students regardless of their specific functions or settings. The NASW Code of Ethics is best described as a “living” document. With an ever-changing world serving as the context, new social developments and issues have warranted several revisions of the Code.

The Code was last revised in 2008 and is currently used by most social work licensing boards. View the Code of Ethics by following this link.

Ethical Standard of the Month

1.07 Privacy and Confidentiality

(j) Social workers should protect the confidentiality of clients during legal proceedings to the extent permitted by law. When a court of law or other legally authorized body orders social workers to disclose confidential or privileged information without a client’s consent and such disclosure could cause harm to the client, social workers should request that the court withdraw the order or limit the order as narrowly as possible or maintain the records under seal, unavailable for public inspection.

NASW regularly receives calls from social workers with concerns regarding subpoenas or other requests from attorneys to provide confidential records of clients. The call or letter from an attorney with this request can be intimidating; an understanding of the ethical obligations regarding this standard can help ease that fear. The fact that the request comes from an attorney does not automatically require that a social worker breach their client’s confidentiality. According to the NASW Code of Ethics, when a social worker does not have a client’s consent to release information, the social worker must actively support the clients’ right to privacy and take steps to protect that privacy to the extent permitted by law. For additional information on Social Workers and Subpoenas, see: Responding to a Subpoena (NASW Legal Defense Fund, Legal Issue of the Month, April 2009).

Did You Know?
The NASW Social Work Ethics and Law Institute posts a “Did you know?” segment on our Facebook page. For weekly updates see:!/socialworkethicslaw
National Association of Social Workers, 750 First Street, NE • Suite 800, Washington, DC 20002
©2015 National Association of Social Workers. All Rights Reserved.
  • Update Your Profile in the Member Center
  • Login