Guidance for social workers on social media and Covid-19 vaccination messages

This advice is from the Social Workers Registration Board on the Social workers professional responsibilities under the SWRB Code of Conduct and general scope of practice.

Social workers and Covid-19 vaccination requirements

The SWRB has received concerns regarding registered social workers expressing views on social media about COVID-19 vaccination and asked what action the Board is taking about registered social workers who share disinformation about COVID-19.

Does the SWRB require all registered social workers to be vaccinated?

The SWRB as professional regulatory body does not require all social workers to be vaccinated at this time. However, social workers must follow the law (including public health directives) and are bound by their employment contracts and employment requirements.

What does the Social Workers Registration Board do?

The Social Workers Registration Board is mandated to protect the safety of the public and ensure registered social workers are competent and accountable for their practice. Social workers must follow best practice and comply with the Code of Conduct in all aspects of their lives. Social workers must also hold an annual practising certificate and complete an annual declaration to undertake supervision and continuing professional development. The Board operates a complaints process to ensure accountability and safety of the public. Employers who have serious concerns about the conduct, competence or health of a social worker must report this to the SWRB.

The Code of Conduct

The SWRB has drafted a Code of Conduct that applies to all registered social workers.  The SWRB can give guidance on the application of the Code of Conduct, social worker competencies, serious misconduct and previous regulatory intervention and Disciplinary Tribunal decisions.

COVID-19 Complaints about Social Workers

If someone believes a social worker has posted anti COVID-19 vaccination messages and are in breach of their professional obligations, we encourage them to make a complaint through our website. The SWRB cannot predetermine the outcome of any particular concern as complaints about conduct are investigated by an independent committee who may then lay charges in the Tribunal for serious conduct matters.

As with all concerns about social work practice, it is important that the employer is informed in the first instance. The SWRB would consider investigating a complaint if it was lodged.

Social Worker’s views about COVID-19 vaccination

Social workers can have a different personal view on a government policy, social workers often have different views on policy matters and regularly act as advocates for vulnerable service users.

However, if those views impact on the reputation of the social work profession or prevent safe professional practice, they may be in breach of the Code of Conduct.  Some examples of matters which may be raised with us include:

  • A social worker uses their social work position within the professional context to encourage service users to not get vaccinated.
  • A social worker puts their own views before the best interests of a client.
  • A social worker gives medical advice to clients about vaccinations.
  • A social worker does not follow the law or employer requirements.

Principle 3 Respect the cultural needs and values of the client

3.4         be aware of any personal or religious beliefs or moral positions you have and make sure these do not override a client’s right to self-determination and to receive quality social work service.

Principle 4 Be competent and responsible for your professional development

4.2         work in accordance with the law.

Principle 9: Maintain public trust and confidence in the social work profession

9.3         provide accurate, factual information about your knowledge, skills, statutory status, training, qualifications, and experience.

Social Media

Social workers need to be careful when using social media, especially in relation to opinions about COVID 19 and vaccination.  The Code of Conduct applies to social workers at all times and applies to social workers when they are using social media.  The following principles are relevant when using social media;

Principle 9: Maintain public trust and confidence in the social work profession

9.1 – Maintain a high standard of professional and personal behaviour –avoid activities, work, or non‐work that may in any way bring the social work profession into disrepute; the same standards of conduct are expected when using social media and electronic forms of communication.

Principle 10: Keep accurate records and use technology effectively and safely. 

10.6 – be aware of the dynamics, advantages, and limitations of technology-based interactions and the ways in which technology-based social work practice can be safely and appropriately conducted – it’s your responsibility to: 

  • manage any associated risks when using technology –consider the destiny of data and be aware that all posts on social networking sites are public and permanent.
  • set and maintain clear and appropriate personal and professional boundaries in all forms of communication, including face-to-face contact, written, telephone, and online communications.

18 October 2021