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Personal and professional conduct: where the boundaries lie

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 21 Jan 2022

ICAEW has issued new guidance regarding the influence of personal behaviour on professional conduct.

There are times when the boundaries between the personal and professional life of a Chartered Accountant become blurred. This is particularly true when it comes to professional conduct: there are times when your personal behaviour will have an impact on your standing as a member of ICAEW and the reputation of Chartered Accountants in general.

In July 2021, the Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies (CCAB) published guidance on the high-level principles that CCAB member bodies take into account when determining whether a member may have breached their Code of Ethics, Bye-Laws and regulations.

As a CCAB member body, ICAEW has outlined how it would approach a case of poor conduct in a member’s professional life, together with new guidance on how it would respond in certain instances.

Illegal behaviour

Every member should comply with all relevant laws and regulations under ICAEW’s Code of Ethics. If members commit criminal acts, they might also be liable to disciplinary action. This depends on the gravity of the offence, notably if it’s an indictable offence.

The Professional Conduct Department and relevant ICAEW disciplinary committee/tribunal will take into account specific facts and circumstances of the case; for example, any relevant aggravating and mitigating factors. Read ICAEW’s Guidance on Sanctions for full details.

Conduct bearing on a member’s professional qualities

In certain circumstances, Chartered Accountants are held to higher standards than a lay person. For example, the general public expects that a Chartered Accountant will be competent in dealing with their own financial affairs. If a member makes serious errors on their self assessment tax return, for instance, that would be an issue for consideration by the Professional Conduct Department.

Poor conduct where a member identifies themselves as a Chartered Accountant

There are some non-criminal behaviours that could bring discredit to the profession, despite taking place in a member’s personal life. This is heightened when that member identifies themselves as a Chartered Accountant. As a rule of thumb, any poor behaviour would be classified as a disciplinary matter if a reasonable and informed third party would likely conclude that the behaviour has damaged the reputation of the profession. This could include: offensive or aggressive social media posts; threatening or aggressive behaviour in person or through another communication channel; and inappropriate sexual behaviour towards a colleague.

Seriously poor conduct

Sometimes a member’s behaviour goes so far as to discredit the profession whether they identify themselves as a Chartered Accountant or not. In those cases, it could be an indication of a serious lack of professional judgement, bringing into question their fitness to operate as a Chartered Accountant. If the incident involves the workplace, colleagues or other accountants, it may be considered more severe. Incidents classified as seriously poor conduct include: racist or similarly offensive and hateful comments published through a social media account; and physical or verbal assault on a client, colleague or other individual outside of a work environment, where no criminal conviction is received.

Duty to report misconduct

Members have a duty to report the misconduct of any other members if they see any behaviour that could adversely affect the reputation of ICAEW or the profession as a whole. Members are encouraged to consult the revised guidance on the Duty to Report Misconduct, which includes reference to the above behaviours.