What Does “Unprofessional Conduct” Mean for a Social Worker in Illinois?

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Illinois’ Administrative Code contains procedures and regulations that guide all professional licensure decisions. The Code also lays out in specific terms the kind of professional conduct expected from all licensees. For professionals working in the field of social work, that conduct is described in the Clinical Social Work and Social Work Practice Act (225 ILCS 20/).   There are several behaviors classified as “unprofessional conduct,” any of which could lead to a Social Worker being notified of a license suspension, revocation, probation, reprimand, or other disciplinary action.

“Unprofessional conduct” refers to acts or behavior that may be harmful to the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Unprofessional actions could be conduct that negatively affects a professional’s ability to practice, or it could be conduct that outright violates one or more provisions of the regulatory act. 

A licensed social worker may face disciplinary action if he or she is “engaging in dishonorable, unethical or unprofessional conduct of a character likely to deceive, defraud or harm the public as defined by the rules of the Department, or violating the rules of professional conduct adopted by the Department” (225 ILCS 20/19). While there are many ways that a social worker could potentially engage in unprofessional conduct, there are a few specific examples listed in the Code. For example, misrepresenting your qualifications or credentials when applying for a license or working with a client under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

For social workers, several client-related activities fall under unprofessional conduct, including abandoning a client without cause or filing a false record or report about a licensee’s clients or practice. Other items may include discriminating against certain clients, failing to report instances of suspected child abuse, or attempting to use your position to aid anyone engaged in criminal abuse of a child. 

Performing services incompetently or with an expired license are also considered unprofessional conduct under the Code. 

Social workers should remain mindful of these professional conduct requirements, particularly as they relate to client confidentiality. Today’s constant use of social media has caused some social workers to cross professional conduct lines when complaining or joking about clients on their social media accounts. 

Public disciplinary records show many social workers cross another important line when attempting to practice without full and proper licensing. A lapsed or otherwise invalid license, regardless of the cause subjects a Social Worker to both legal claims and disciplinary action from IDFPR.

If you do find yourself the subject of a complaint or administrative action, it is important to retain an experienced attorney who can respond on your behalf and help you demonstrate to your employer and your clients that you are a true professional in your field.

Jordan Matyas - 1818 Founder

Jordan Matyas

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Jordan Matyas is a lawyer, lobbyist, and Founder of 1818 Legal, an Illinois professional licensing defense law firm he created in 2014. With more than 18 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including professional license defense, administrative law, land use and zoning, and state, local, and municipal law.

Jordan received his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois — Chicago School of Law and is a member of the Illinois Bar Association.