Occupational Therapy Codes of Ethic 

Preamble

 

The 2015 Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics (Code) of the American Occupational Therapy
Association (AOTA) is designed to reflect the dynamic nature of the profession, the evolving
health care environment, and emerging technologies that can present potential ethical concerns in
research, education, and practice. AOTA members are committed to promoting inclusion,
participation, safety, and well-being for all recipients in various stages of life, health, and illness
and to empowering all beneficiaries of service to meet their occupational needs. Recipients of
services may be individuals, groups, families, organizations, communities, or populations
(AOTA, 2014b).


The Code is an AOTA Official Document and a public statement tailored to address the most
prevalent ethical concerns of the occupational therapy profession. It outlines Standards of
Conduct the public can expect from those in the profession. It should be applied to all areas of
occupational therapy and shared with relevant stakeholders to promote ethical conduct.
The Code serves two purposes:


1. It provides aspirational Core Values that guide members toward ethical courses of action
in professional and volunteer roles, and
2. It delineates enforceable Principles and Standards of Conduct that apply to AOTA
members.


Whereas the Code helps guide and define decision-making parameters, ethical action goes
beyond rote compliance with these Principles and is a manifestation of moral character and
mindful reflection. It is a commitment to benefit others, to virtuous practice of artistry and
science, to genuinely good behaviors, and to noble acts of courage. Recognizing and resolving
ethical issues is a systematic process that includes analysis of the complex dynamics of
situations, weighing of consequences, making reasoned decisions, taking action, and reflecting
on outcomes. Occupational therapy personnel, including students in occupational therapy
programs, are expected to abide by the Principles and Standards of Conduct within this Code.
Personnel roles include clinicians (e.g., direct service, consultation, administration); educators;
researchers; entrepreneurs; business owners; and those in elected, appointed, or other
professional volunteer service.


The process for addressing ethics violations by AOTA members (and associate members,
where applicable) is outlined in the Code’s Enforcement Procedures (AOTA, 2014a).
Although the Code can be used in conjunction with licensure board regulations and laws that
guide standards of practice, the Code is meant to be a free-standing document, guiding ethical
dimensions of professional behavior, responsibility, practice, and decision making. This Code is
not exhaustive; that is, the Principles and Standards of Conduct cannot address every possible
situation. Therefore, before making complex ethical decisions that require further expertise,
occupational therapy personnel should seek out resources to assist in resolving ethical issues not
addressed in this document. Resources can include, but are not limited to, ethics committees,
ethics officers, the AOTA Ethics Commission or Ethics Program Manager, or an ethics
consultant.

Core Values 

The profession is grounded in seven long-standing Core Values: (1) Altruism, (2) Equality, (3)
Freedom, (4) Justice, (5) Dignity, (6) Truth, and (7) Prudence. Altruism involves demonstrating
concern for the welfare of others. Equality refers to treating all people impartially and free of
bias. Freedom and personal choice are paramount in a profession in which the values and desires
of the client guide our interventions. Justice expresses a state in which diverse communities are
inclusive; diverse communities are organized and structured such that all members can function,
flourish, and live a satisfactory life. Occupational therapy personnel, by virtue of the specific
nature of the practice of occupational therapy, have a vested interest in addressing unjust
inequities that limit opportunities for participation in society (Braveman & Bass-Haugen, 2009).
Inherent in the practice of occupational therapy is the promotion and preservation of the
individuality and Dignity of the client, by treating him or her with respect in all interactions. In
all situations, occupational therapy personnel must provide accurate information in oral, written,
and electronic forms (Truth). Occupational therapy personnel use their clinical and ethical
reasoning skills, sound judgment, and reflection to make decisions in professional and volunteer
roles (Prudence).


The seven Core Values provide a foundation to guide occupational therapy personnel in their
interactions with others. Although the Core Values are not themselves enforceable standards,
they should be considered when determining the most ethical course of action.

Principles of Standard of Conduct

The Principles and Standards of Conduct that are enforceable for professional behavior include
(1) Beneficence, (2) Nonmaleficence, (3) Autonomy, (4) Justice, (5) Veracity, and (6) Fidelity.
Reflection on the historical foundations of occupational therapy and related professions resulted
in the inclusion of Principles that are consistently referenced as a guideline for ethical decision
making.

Beneficence

Principle 1. Occupational therapy personnel shall demonstrate a concern for the well-being
and safety of the recipients of their services.


Beneficence includes all forms of action intended to benefit other persons. The term
beneficence connotes acts of mercy, kindness, and charity (Beauchamp & Childress, 2013).
Beneficence requires taking action by helping others, in other words, by promoting good, by
preventing harm, and by removing harm. Examples of beneficence include protecting and
defending the rights of others, preventing harm from occurring to others, removing conditions
that will cause harm to others, helping persons with disabilities, and rescuing persons in danger
(Beauchamp & Childress, 2013).

Related Standards of Conducts 

Occupational therapy personnel shall
A. Provide appropriate evaluation and a plan of intervention for recipients of occupational
therapy services specific to their needs.
B. Reevaluate and reassess recipients of service in a timely manner to determine whether
goals are being achieved and whether intervention plans should be revised.
C. Use, to the extent possible, evaluation, planning, intervention techniques, assessments,
and therapeutic equipment that are evidence based, current, and within the recognized
scope of occupational therapy practice.
D. Ensure that all duties delegated to other occupational therapy personnel are congruent
with credentials, qualifications, experience, competency, and scope of practice with
respect to service delivery, supervision, fieldwork education, and research.
E. Provide occupational therapy services, including education and training, that are within
each practitioner’s level of competence and scope of practice.
F. Take steps (e.g., continuing education, research, supervision, training) to ensure
proficiency, use careful judgment, and weigh potential for harm when generally
recognized standards do not exist in emerging technology or areas of practice.
G. Maintain competency by ongoing participation in education relevant to one’s practice
area.
H. Terminate occupational therapy services in collaboration with the service recipient or
responsible party when the services are no longer beneficial.
I. Refer to other providers when indicated by the needs of the client.
J. Conduct and disseminate research in accordance with currently accepted ethical
guidelines and standards for the protection of research

Nonmaleficence

Occupational therapy personnel shall
A. Provide appropriate evaluation and a plan of intervention for recipients of occupational
therapy services specific to their needs.
B. Reevaluate and reassess recipients of service in a timely manner to determine whether
goals are being achieved and whether intervention plans should be revised.
C. Use, to the extent possible, evaluation, planning, intervention techniques, assessments,
and therapeutic equipment that are evidence based, current, and within the recognized
scope of occupational therapy practice.
D. Ensure that all duties delegated to other occupational therapy personnel are congruent
with credentials, qualifications, experience, competency, and scope of practice with
respect to service delivery, supervision, fieldwork education, and research.
E. Provide occupational therapy services, including education and training, that are within
each practitioner’s level of competence and scope of practice.
F. Take steps (e.g., continuing education, research, supervision, training) to ensure
proficiency, use careful judgment, and weigh potential for harm when generally
recognized standards do not exist in emerging technology or areas of practice.
G. Maintain competency by ongoing participation in education relevant to one’s practice
area.
H. Terminate occupational therapy services in collaboration with the service recipient or
responsible party when the services are no longer beneficial.
I. Refer to other providers when indicated by the needs of the client.
J. Conduct and disseminate research in accordance with currently accepted ethical
guidelines and standards for the protection of research

Related Standards of Conduct 

Occupational therapy personnel shall
A. Avoid inflicting harm or injury to recipients of occupational therapy services, students,
research participants, or employees.
B. Avoid abandoning the service recipient by facilitating appropriate transitions when
unable to provide services for any reason.
C. Recognize and take appropriate action to remedy personal problems and limitations that
might cause harm to recipients of service, colleagues, students, research participants, or
others.
D. Avoid any undue influences that may impair practice and compromise the ability to
safely and competently provide occupational therapy services, education, or research.
E. Address impaired practice and when necessary report to the appropriate authorities.
F. Avoid dual relationships, conflicts of interest, and situations in which a practitioner,
educator, student, researcher, or employer is unable to maintain clear professional
boundaries or objectivity.
G. Avoid engaging in sexual activity with a recipient of service, including the client’s family
or significant other, student, research participant, or employee, while a professional
relationship exists.
H. Avoid compromising rights or well-being of others based on arbitrary directives (e.g.,
unrealistic productivity expectations, falsification of documentation, inaccurate coding)
by exercising professional judgment and critical analysis.
I. Avoid exploiting any relationship established as an occupational therapy clinician,
educator, or researcher to further one’s own physical, emotional, financial, political, or
business interests at the expense of recipients of services, students, research participants,
employees, or colleagues.
J. Avoid bartering for services when there is the potential for exploitation and conflict of
interest.

Autonomy

Principle 3. Occupational therapy personnel shall respect the right of the individual to self determination,
privacy, confidentiality, and consent.


The Principle of Autonomy expresses the concept that practitioners have a duty to treat the
client according to the client’s desires, within the bounds of accepted standards of care, and to
protect the client’s confidential information. Often, respect for Autonomy is referred to as the
self-determination principle. However, respecting a person’s autonomy goes beyond
acknowledging an individual as a mere agent and also acknowledges a person’s right “to hold
views, to make choices, and to take actions based on [his or her] values and beliefs” (Beauchamp
& Childress, 2013, p. 106). Individuals have the right to make a determination regarding care
decisions that directly affect their lives. In the event that a person lacks decision-making
capacity, his or her autonomy should be respected through involvement of an authorized agent or
surrogate decision maker.

Related Standards of Conduct

Occupational therapy personnel shall
A. Respect and honor the expressed wishes of recipients of service.
B. Fully disclose the benefits, risks, and potential outcomes of any intervention; the
personnel who will be providing the intervention; and any reasonable alternatives to the
proposed intervention.
C. Obtain consent after disclosing appropriate information and answering any questions
posed by the recipient of service or research participant to ensure voluntariness.
D. Establish a collaborative relationship with recipients of service and relevant stakeholders,
to promote shared decision making.
E. Respect the client’s right to refuse occupational therapy services temporarily or
permanently, even when that refusal has potential to result in poor outcomes.
F. Refrain from threatening, coercing, or deceiving clients to promote compliance with
occupational therapy recommendations.
G. Respect a research participant’s right to withdraw from a research study without penalty.
H. Maintain the confidentiality of all verbal, written, electronic, augmentative, and
nonverbal communications, in compliance with applicable laws, including all aspects of
privacy laws and exceptions thereto (e.g., Health Insurance Portability and
Accountability Act, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act).
I. Display responsible conduct and discretion when engaging in social networking,
including but not limited to refraining from posting protected health information.
J. Facilitate comprehension and address barriers to communication (e.g., aphasia;
differences in language, literacy, culture) with the recipient of service (or responsible
party), student, or research participant.

Justice

Principle 4. Occupational therapy personnel shall promote fairness and objectivity in the
provision of occupational therapy services.


The Principle of Justice relates to the fair, equitable, and appropriate treatment of persons
(Beauchamp & Childress, 2013). Occupational therapy personnel should relate in a respectful,
fair, and impartial manner to individuals and groups with whom they interact. They should also
respect the applicable laws and standards related to their area of practice. Justice requires the
impartial consideration and consistent following of rules to generate unbiased decisions and
promote fairness. As occupational therapy personnel, we work to uphold a society in which all
individuals have an equitable opportunity to achieve occupational engagement as an essential
component of their life.

Related Standards of Conduct

Occupational therapy personnel shall

A. Respond to requests for occupational therapy services (e.g., a referral) in a timely manner
as determined by law, regulation, or policy.
B. Assist those in need of occupational therapy services to secure access through available
means.
C. Address barriers in access to occupational therapy services by offering or referring clients
to financial aid, charity care, or pro bono services within the parameters of organizational
policies.
D. Advocate for changes to systems and policies that are discriminatory or unfairly limit or
prevent access to occupational therapy services.
E. Maintain awareness of current laws and AOTA policies and Official Documents that
apply to the profession of occupational therapy.
F. Inform employers, employees, colleagues, students, and researchers of applicable
policies, laws, and Official Documents.
G. Hold requisite credentials for the occupational therapy services they provide in academic,
research, physical, or virtual work settings.
H. Provide appropriate supervision in accordance with AOTA Official Documents and
relevant laws, regulations, policies, procedures, standards, and guidelines.
I. Obtain all necessary approvals prior to initiating research activities.
J. Refrain from accepting gifts that would unduly influence the therapeutic relationship or
have the potential to blur professional boundaries, and adhere to employer policies when
offered gifts.
K. Report to appropriate authorities any acts in practice, education, and research that are
unethical or illegal.
L. Collaborate with employers to formulate policies and procedures in compliance with
legal, regulatory, and ethical standards and work to resolve any conflicts or
inconsistencies.
M. Bill and collect fees legally and justly in a manner that is fair, reasonable, and
commensurate with services delivered.
N. Ensure compliance with relevant laws and promote transparency when participating in a
business arrangement as owner, stockholder, partner, or employee.
O. Ensure that documentation for reimbursement purposes is done in accordance with
applicable laws, guidelines, and regulations.
P. Refrain from participating in any action resulting in unauthorized access to educational
content or exams (including but not limited to sharing test questions, unauthorized use of
or access to content or codes, or selling access or authorization codes).

Veracity

Principle 5. Occupational therapy personnel shall provide comprehensive, accurate, and
objective information when representing the profession.


Veracity is based on the virtues of truthfulness, candor, and honesty. The Principle of
Veracity refers to comprehensive, accurate, and objective transmission of information and
includes fostering understanding of such information (Beauchamp & Childress, 2013). Veracity
is based on respect owed to others, including but not limited to recipients of service, colleagues,
students, researchers, and research participants.
In communicating with others, occupational therapy personnel implicitly promise to be
truthful and not deceptive. When entering into a therapeutic or research relationship, the
recipient of service or research participant has a right to accurate information. In addition,
transmission of information is incomplete without also ensuring that the recipient or participant
understands the information provided.
Concepts of veracity must be carefully balanced with other potentially competing ethical
principles, cultural beliefs, and organizational policies. Veracity ultimately is valued as a means
to establish trust and strengthen professional relationships. Therefore, adherence to the Principle
of Veracity also requires thoughtful analysis of how full disclosure of information may affect
outcomes.

Related Standards of Conduct 

Occupational therapy personnel shall
A. Represent credentials, qualifications, education, experience, training, roles, duties,
competence, contributions, and findings accurately in all forms of communication.
B. Refrain from using or participating in the use of any form of communication that contains
false, fraudulent, deceptive, misleading, or unfair statements or claims.
C. Record and report in an accurate and timely manner and in accordance with applicable
regulations all information related to professional or academic documentation and
activities.
D. Identify and fully disclose to all appropriate persons errors or adverse events that
compromise the safety of service recipients.
E. Ensure that all marketing and advertising are truthful, accurate, and carefully presented to
avoid misleading recipients of service, research participants, or the public.
F. Describe the type and duration of occupational therapy services accurately in professional
contracts, including the duties and responsibilities of all involved parties.
G. Be honest, fair, accurate, respectful, and timely in gathering and reporting fact-based
information regarding employee job performance and student performance.
H. Give credit and recognition when using the ideas and work of others in written, oral, or
electronic media (i.e., do not plagiarize).
I. Provide students with access to accurate information regarding educational requirements
and academic policies and procedures relative to the occupational therapy program or
educational institution.

J. Maintain privacy and truthfulness when utilizing telecommunication in delivery of
occupational therapy services.

Fidelity 

Principle 6. Occupational therapy personnel shall treat clients, colleagues, and other
professionals with respect, fairness, discretion, and integrity.


The Principle of Fidelity comes from the Latin root fidelis, meaning loyal. Fidelity refers to
the duty one has to keep a commitment once it is made (Veatch, Haddad, & English, 2010). In
the health professions, this commitment refers to promises made between a provider and a client
or patient based on an expectation of loyalty, staying with the patient in a time of need, and
compliance with a code of ethics. These promises can be implied or explicit. The duty to disclose
information that is potentially meaningful in making decisions is one obligation of the moral
contract between provider and client or patient (Veatch et al., 2010).
Whereas respecting Fidelity requires occupational therapy personnel to meet the client’s
reasonable expectations, the Principle also addresses maintaining respectful collegial and
organizational relationships (Purtilo & Doherty, 2011). Professional relationships are greatly
influenced by the complexity of the environment in which occupational therapy personnel work.
Practitioners, educators, and researchers alike must consistently balance their duties to service
recipients, students, research participants, and other professionals as well as to organizations that
may influence decision making and professional practice.

Related Standard of Conduct 

Occupational therapy personnel shall
A. Preserve, respect, and safeguard private information about employees, colleagues, and
students unless otherwise mandated or permitted by relevant laws.
B. Address incompetent, disruptive, unethical, illegal, or impaired practice that jeopardizes
the safety or well-being of others and team effectiveness.
C. Avoid conflicts of interest or conflicts of commitment in employment, volunteer roles, or
research.
D. Avoid using one’s position (employee or volunteer) or knowledge gained from that
position in such a manner as to give rise to real or perceived conflict of interest among
the person, the employer, other AOTA members, or other organizations.
E. Be diligent stewards of human, financial, and material resources of their employers, and
refrain from exploiting these resources for personal gain.
F. Refrain from verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual harassment of peers or colleagues.
G. Refrain from communication that is derogatory, intimidating, or disrespectful and that
unduly discourages others from participating in professional dialogue.
H. Promote collaborative actions and communication as a member of interprofessional
teams to facilitate quality care and safety for clients.
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I. Respect the practices, competencies, roles, and responsibilities of their own and other
professions to promote a collaborative environment reflective of interprofessional teams.
J. Use conflict resolution and internal and alternative dispute resolution resources as needed
to resolve organizational and interpersonal conflicts, as well as perceived institutional
ethics violations.
K. Abide by policies, procedures, and protocols when serving or acting on behalf of a
professional organization or employer to fully and accurately represent the organization’s
official and authorized positions.
L. Refrain from actions that reduce the public’s trust in occupational therapy.
M. Self-identify when personal, cultural, or religious values preclude, or are anticipated to
negatively affect, the professional relationship or provision of services, while adhering to
organizational policies when requesting an exemption from service to an individual or
group on the basis of conflict of conscience.

References 

References
American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014a). Enforcement procedures for the
Occupational therapy code of ethics and ethics standards. American Journal of Occupational
Therapy, 68(Suppl. 3), S3–S15. http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.686S02
American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014b). Occupational therapy practice
framework: Domain and process (3rd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68
(Suppl. 1), S1–S48. http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.682006
Beauchamp, T. L., & Childress, J. F. (2013). Principles of biomedical ethics (7th ed.). New
York: Oxford University Press.
Braveman, B., & Bass-Haugen, J. D. (2009). Social justice and health disparities: An evolving
discourse in occupational therapy research and intervention. American Journal of
Occupational Therapy, 63, 7–12. http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.63.1.7
Purtilo, R., & Doherty, R. (2011). Ethical dimensions in the health professions (5th ed.).
Philadelphia: Saunders/Elsevier.
Veatch, R. M., Haddad, A. M., & English, D. C. (2010). Case studies in biomedical ethics. New
York: Oxford University Press.
Ethics Commission (EC)
Yvette Hachtel, JD, OTR/L, EC Chair (2013–2014)
Lea Cheyney Brandt, OTD, MA, OTR/L, EC Chair (2014–2015)
Ann Moodey Ashe, MHS, OTR/L (2011–2014)
Joanne Estes, PhD, OTR/L (2012–2015)
Loretta Jean Foster, MS, COTA/L (2011–2014)
Wayne L. Winistorfer, MPA, OTR (2014–2017)
Linda Scheirton, PhD, RDH (2012–2015)
Kate Payne, JD, RN (2013–2014)
Margaret R. Moon, MD, MPH, FAAP (2014–2016)

Kimberly S. Erler, MS, OTR/L (2014–2017)
Kathleen McCracken, MHA, COTA/L (2014–2017)
Deborah Yarett Slater, MS, OT/L, FAOTA, AOTA Ethics Program Manager
Adopted by the Representative Assembly 2015AprilC3.
Note. This document replaces the 2010 document Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics and
Ethics Standards (2010), previously published and copyrighted in 2010 by the American
Occupational Therapy Association in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 64, S17–
S26. http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2010.64S17
Copyright © 2015 by the American Occupational Therapy Association.
Citation. American Occupational Therapy Association. (in press). Occupational therapy code of
ethics (2015). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 69(Suppl. 3).

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