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Protecting Your License By Maintaining Healthy Boundaries with Your Clients, Patients, and Customers

| July 29, 2022

Professionals often develop a close working relationship with the people who seek their services. Unfortunately, as the relationship between them deepens, violations can happen almost unexpectedly. These violations can eventually destroy the professional relationship and in many cases, result in a disciplinary complaint being filed with the licensing board. Whether you are facing a complaint or want to avoid potential issues, a lawyer with experience in representing licensed professionals can help. 

The Importance of Professional Boundaries

Professional boundaries define the relationship between a professional and their client, patient, or customer. People seeking professional assistance, whether from a doctor, lawyer, or other professional, are often in a position of vulnerability. They need help with some problem in their lives and the professional is in a position of authority. This creates a power imbalance which can lead to issues if you are not careful. 

Being intentional about the relationship and drawing clear boundaries protects both the professional as well as the client or patient. While some professionals may intentionally engage in inappropriate behavior with their clients or customers, most disciplinary complaints arise due to the professional’s inadvertent failure to set and maintain clear boundaries in the relationship. 

An attorney who handles professional license defense cases can help sensitize you to the importance of developing and maintaining professional boundaries with your clients, patients, or customers. This way, you can avoid potential issues before facing a complaint from your disciplinary board. 

How Professional Boundaries Can Be Crossed

Boundary violations can sometimes be difficult to identify, especially when the boundaries have eroded over time. Here are some of the ways that boundaries can be crossed:

  • Boundaries are much more likely to be crossed when you develop a personal relationship with your client or patient. This is somewhat inevitable with long-time clients and patients, which is even more reason to be careful about boundaries. You must communicate up-front and reiterate often that your professional obligations must come before your personal relationship. That said, having a romantic or sexual relationship with a patient or client is always problematic. 
  • Unnecessary physical contact with your client or patient is always a boundary violation, even if the contact is not sexual. Massaging their shoulders, touching their arm, or other inappropriate contact can make them feel uncomfortable and lead to a complaint.
  • Loaning or borrowing money or giving or receiving expensive gifts can be a violation of professional boundaries as it may allow one person to have undue influence over the other. You should avoid any type of financial transaction beyond payment of your normal fee that could suggest that your professional judgment has been compromised. 
  • Using your professional expertise and authority to influence your client or patient’s actions to your benefit can also lead to an ethical complaint. As a professional, your obligation is to act in your client or patient’s best interests at all times. Capitalizing on their fear, insecurity, or other vulnerabilities for your own financial gain is a clear violation of your professional boundaries. 
  • Communicating with clients in an inappropriate manner, time, or method can also be a violation of professional boundaries. Using an insecure platform can raise confidentiality issues. Whatever method you use, professionals should be careful when communicating with clients or patients that their messages should not come off as harassing or otherwise unprofessional. You should respect your client’s requests that they communicate with you via a certain method or time to the extent that you are able. 

Professionals should also be mindful that clients or patients may be the ones who are disrespecting your professional boundaries. These cases are often the most difficult to manage, but you need to remember that they can result in a complaint even if you are not the one who crossed the line. 

A lawyer who has experience in handling professional licensing issues can help you navigate these issues. They can sensitize you to the difficult-to-spot violations and help you protect your license. They can also help you respond to complaints and hopefully resolve the issue in your favor. 

Contact The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford to Protect Your License

Boundary violations are often embarrassing for the professionals involved. Unfortunately, disciplinary boards take these violations very seriously. As a result, you need someone who can help you navigate the issues and avoid suspension or revocation of your license. To schedule an appointment, contact us today at 410-514-6099 to discuss how we can help protect your license.