It's Legal but Is It Ethical?
Someone was fired last week. The rumor is going around that she was fired because she didn't smile. I don't know if that's true or not but in Texas it is legal. Here an employer can fire an employee for any reason, even if they make it up. Nor do they have to prove it's true. There are no laws preventing it. Maybe the woman smiled. Maybe she didn't. She's still fired.
Last year I was the victim of something similar. I've become very familiar with Texas labor laws. When I've brought the topic up with lawyers, everyone gives me the same answer. It might be legal but it's very unethical. Those same lawyers tell me there are no laws against unethical behavior. You're just supposed to know better.
I looked through the Texas practice act. It covers every kind of professional behavior; charging, documenting, conflict of interest, interaction with patients etc., except ethicality. It says PTs are to behave in a professional manner. The APTA does have a code of conduct. It touches on ethical issues although it's somewhat vague. Nowhere could I find anything concerning enforcement of ethical behavior.
I don't know who acts as the ethics police for physical therapy. Physicians have a process in place. I couldn't find anything specific for nursing but they spell things out much more clearly. Apparently we're just supposed to know better. I'm here to tell you, that isn't true. Some people either don't know, don't care or don't think it applies to them.
Maybe ethicality falls under professionalism. I can see that argument. A professional should behave in an ethical manner. I can think of a few PTs I've worked with over the years who did nothing overtly wrong but didn't behave in a professional manner, although I'd say they were ethical. I worked under a manager who was blatantly unethical but was professional in appearance.
We need a better definition of both for our profession. Which brings me back to my original question of who functions as the ethical police for physical therapy? To whom do we report unethical behavior? More importantly, how do we enforce it? I have no clue. I think we're generally a very ethical bunch but there's always someone who takes advantage of a position for personal gain or wrongly uses information.
This is going to become a larger problem as we continue to grow as a profession. The more responsibility we take on, the more careful we must be.