TAGS: case study, ethics, principles, privacy
The following case study describes the role of career centers when a student’s identifiable demographics are sent via e-mail by staff personnel and shared with others outside the university. The student has come to the career center for assistance in finding a job in a specific field as well as the regional area. Principles 1, 3, 4, and 5 of the Principles for Ethical Professional Practice are used to address this scenario.
This case study provides insight into:
Scenario: The following inquiry was posted to a 1,000-person networking site, listserv, or other online forum (hereafter referred to as a “group”) for counseling professionals:
“I am working with a 54-year-old Latina client who is attempting to identify career options. Her previous work history includes:
She has an undergraduate degree in communications and media (1981) and is completing her master’s in English. Her thesis and area of greatest interest currently is in media literacy. It deals with educating the public about the impact media has on us, particularly the influence of violence.
Here are the “kinks” in helping her explore her options:
I would love suggestions of positions she might pursue in the public relations/media/ journalism/mediation areas that would accommodate her disabilities.”
Analysis: A career services professional shared detailed client information seeking advice on career options—the professional shared confidential information, including that the client is a member of a protected class, her gender and age, and that she has a disability. Additionally, the professional shared information about her race, graduation year, major, and her preferred location. The demographic data of the client are so narrowed that confidentiality and privacy are compromised. We assume that the professional did not get permission from the client to present her case to the listserv. However, even with the authorization from a client, the professional should remove any identifiable demographic information that would expose identity.
Counselors should be reminded that information shared on listservs and other electronic media should be considered public information. Counselors should also be mindful that the disclosure of certain student identifying information may be considered a violation of FERPA. Clients should always be consulted before a career services professional seeks advice on their case and should be informed of the rights to confidentiality. Career counselor-client confidentiality and privacy are ethical standards of practice that restrict the exposure of clients to others as potential ramifications can follow suit, thus exposing the professional, and the educational institution, to a variety of potential legal issues.
Be mindful that when seeking assistance through listserv and other electronic media others can view the information provided and respond. It is also recommended with sensitive information to reach out to colleagues for assistance by phone versus email. Even if the information is provided by phone, however, it does not relieve the counselor of the confidentiality and privacy requirements. Even with a phone call, consent from the client should be obtained prior to disclosure.
Principles That Apply:
Options for Resolution: Principle 5 is very clear when it states that personal information of students is to be protected.
First of all, the career services professional posting this case should be informed that the action runs counter to the Principles for Ethical Professional Practice, specifically Principle 5. The professional should be made aware of alternatives that should be followed to avoid this breach of client confidentiality:
The client in this scenario should be informed about the breach of confidentiality and given a copy of “Playing Fair: Your Rights and Responsibilities as a Job Seeker.” She needs to be assured that this breach of confidentiality is being taken seriously and steps have been taken to prevent this from happening in the future. The counselor should consider posting the “Playing Fair” article in the career services office so that students are made aware of their rights.
Reviewed and revised by the 2019 Principles for Ethical Professional Practice Committee. Posted September 2019.
Percent of staff time spent student-facing
Median number of students per professional staff member
Median number of FTE professional staff
Median number of FTE overall staff
Percent of career centers reporting cuts to personnel budget
Percent of career centers reporting cuts to non-personnel budget
Percent of career centers using third-party provider to collect student outcomes
2020-21 Career Services Benchmark Survey Report