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Avoiding Malpractice Tips

You Are A Leader… But Responsibility Comes With The Power

May 1, 2022 | Avoiding Malpractice Tips

You Are A Leader…But Responsibility Comes With The Power

The social work profession is a noble one founded on service, integrity, and clinical expertise. At times, it can be a stressful and dangerous occupation. The nation is grateful for what you do, AND SO ARE WE! Thank you!

Can you be a leader? You already are a leader. You do not need to be responsible for a huge organization to be a leader. You need to show support for others and enable others by helping them to reach their potential through guidance and healing. Influential leaders are enablers who would allow organizations to function well, just as effective social workers enable positive support for people, families, and their communities. As an enabling function, leadership is getting good things done through people for people in its most elementary term. It’s about improving life, well-being, and opportunities to thrive, not just to survive.

As a liability insurance carrier, the NASW Risk Retention Group helps accomplish your noble goals by enabling you to shift risks away from you and your practice to the NASW Risk Retention Group.

There are at least two ways to view leadership. One is client-facing and therapy session-focused. The other is agency or business-focused. Insurance covers both aspects and more. Since the NASW Risk Retention Group provides insurance to lower your risk, let’s focus on that.

Sole practitioners lead their practice and deliver professional services. So do agencies through their staff of people, which includes contractors and employees, of course. We have found that sole practitioners and agencies work with contractors who improve people’s lives. These effective leaders deliver professional services in new and innovative ways.

For example, their professional services adapt to changing technology such as teletherapy, digital warehouse records storage technology, etc. They typically adopt new processes and practices of operation as they arise and continue to thrive.

Regardless of the change in professional services delivery methods over the decades, there remain real risks that we can sort into three basic risk categories:

  1. Employer (practitioner) employee/contractor risk;
  2. Practitioner venue exposure risk; and
  3. Practitioner direct client-facing therapy risk.

Responsibility comes with power. Employer (practitioner) employee/contractor risk involves people in multiple roles, including supervisory and indirect control of therapy sessions. This category is the most obscure because it involves indirect risk responsibility that the practitioner or agency assumes through the use of employees and/or contractors. In insurance terminology, “vicarious” liability is that ugly sharp-toothed swamp creature lurking in the muddy water, waiting for one of your employees or contractors to make a mistake. Even though you had nothing to do with the incident directly when your employee or contractor makes a mistake, you are indirectly responsible, and you get caught in the jaws of the swamp creature and chewed up too.

Moreover, you are also deemed responsible for the legal liability exposure. Remember that responsibility comes with power. Plaintiff attorneys love naming employers in the lawsuit because it gives more defendants to sue and deeper pockets for a fat court judgment or fat settlement. Undoubtedly you will be named in a lawsuit when employing employees and contractors who run into problems. So, the better your screening is of personnel, and the more detailed and frequent the case notes are updated and thoroughly written that you supervise, the better you have of minimizing your culpability and damages arising from vicarious liability claims. In other words, blood kept out of the water attracts fewer swamp creatures.

Another frequent claim we encounter is poor venue selection and subsequent liability exposure, a firewall breach involving professional services. One example behind the actual session therapy is a third-party breach of client information stored digitally or in a paper records storage location. Both are incidents of cyber liability. There are client-facing cases where the practitioner is not directly involved with the incident but sets up a venue situation where risk exposure occurred. Here the provable culpability increases. For example:

  • You conduct a teletherapy session in a public place where other people can hear the discussion.
  • Operating therapy sessions in your home where third parties can listen to or even intercede.
  • Conducting offsite therapy client sessions together with third parties who have no connection with the case.
  • Using clients or past clients as employees or co-mingling them with your other clients.

Think about the ramifications regarding where and how you conduct your therapy sessions. Make sure that you maintain your firewalls. In other words, a battle avoided is a battle won.

The most blatant risk is direct misconduct by the practitioner in any form. It could be verbal misconduct, physical misconduct, sexual misconduct, witnessing a co-worker or agency owner or your supervisor negligently practicing, or anywhere in between. These are all deemed to be negligent actions that fall below the standard of care. The practitioner has the most interaction or control over the therapy and thus must provide an acceptable standard of care and advise the client to report the misconduct. Failure to provide professional services that meet the standard of care is a breach of the duty with resulting damage caused by the practitioner. The employer is still responsible through vicarious liability for the actions caused by the employer’s employees and its contractors.

Regardless of the preceding, the liability risks survive. Owners, executives, and supervisors of the practice are leaders. Therefore, they are liable for their actions, the actions of their employees and contractors, the actions they witness, and the actions that go unreported.

Avoiding Malpractice Tips

Avoiding Malpractice Tips

Monthly advice and information to help you manage risk. See list of past articles.

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COVID-19 Notice

NASW Risk Retention Group (NASW RRG) shares information based on our helpline inquiries, corresponding claims history, and an understanding of a varying nationwide professional state regulatory environment.

Due to COVID-19, many states have implemented or waived specific regulations; it is the individual professional's responsibility to research, implement, and monitor those regulations; and apply our risk management content as a consideration in your practice environment. Do not interpret this risk management material as any means to alter professional training, standards, nor any ethics information provided by your professional association.

Please understand, the NASW RRG makes no representations or warranties other than those stated to our current policyholders in the insurance policy contract. Please contact us if you have further questions.