Ethical pitfalls to avoid, especially during COVID-19

By Professional Conduct Department, CPABC
Jul 24, 2020
Photo credit: kellymarken/iStock/Getty Images

During times of significant pressure, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, it can be a challenge dealing with additional stressors on top of the usual professional and personal responsibilities. Nevertheless, CPA members are still expected to meet professional standards. In crises, the public relies on professionals even more!

This article is intended as a helpful reminder of five areas where problems might arise and sections of the CPA Code of Professional Conduct that can provide guidance, but remember other important areas such as protecting confidentiality and data security. 

1. Competence (Rules 203 – Professional competence and 206 – Compliance with professional standards)

The pandemic is causing significant changes in both business and personal lives. There is increased demand on members to help.
 
Members must avoid taking on work that is beyond their current competence level and/or taking on too much work at one time, leading to substandard work, errors, or missed deadlines. Members are required to perform professional services in accordance with generally accepted standards of practice of the profession.  

Clients expect CPAs to perform services with thoroughness and professionalism. This means returning telephone calls, keeping a record of communications, reviewing routine filings, and promptly reviewing the work performed by staff. “Being swamped” is not an acceptable excuse for poor service. If a CPA practitioner cannot provide quality service to every client, they should not be offering that service at all.

2. Public practice licensure (Bylaw 700, Rules 101 – Compliance with governing legislation, bylaws, regulations and the CPA Code and 201 – Maintenance of the good reputation of the profession)

The economic effects of COVID-19 may cause some members to consider entering the practice of public accounting as a source of income.

Offering or performing public accounting or other regulated services to the public requires proper public practice licencing issued by CPABC. One of the most important public protections is professional licensure and liability insurance coverage, which is a requirement of proper licensing.

CPABC takes the issue of unlicensed practice very seriously—both because of its mandate to protect the public and because of its mandate to support and educate members. When an unlicensed, unauthorized member provides public accounting or other regulated services, there is significant risk exposure to the public. 

3. Poor communications (Rules 201 – Maintenance of the reputation of the profession, 202 – Integrity and due care)

Members are no doubt feeling increased pressure and demands on their time during this pandemic.  

For most professionals, poor communications such as bad email/text experiences are simply the result of haste. It is important to take the necessary time to ensure communications remain professional. Failing to respond on a timely basis can also be problematic.

The CPABC Code of Professional Conduct (CPA Code) applies to all communications. Per Rule 201.1 (Maintenance of the good reputation of the profession), CPAs must “act at all times with courtesy and respect and in a manner which will maintain the good reputation of the profession and serve the public interest.”

In a similar vein, Rule 202.1 (Integrity and due care) states that members must “perform professional services with integrity and due care.” This includes ensuring that all forms of work-related communications meet the high professional standards expected of CPAs.

4. False or misleading documents and oral representations (Rule 205)

During these challenging times, both federal and provincial governments are helping individuals, businesses, not-for-profit organizations, and other enterprises through several grant and subsidy programs. Members are being asked to provide guidance as to eligibility of these programs and/or help to prepare application forms for these benefits.

This includes preparing letters, reports, statements, representations, or financial statements to assist their clients with COVID-19 related government programs.

Members must not:

a. sign or associate with any documents or representations that they know, or should know, are false or misleading, whether or not the signing or association is subject to a disclaimer of responsibility; or

b. make or associate with any oral report, statement, or representation which they know, or should know, is false or misleading.

5. Unlawful activity (Rule 213) 

Members might need to educate their clients, employer, or the individuals they are advising about the nature of the government relief programs and the related tax treatment so as to avoid cash flow difficulties in the future.

While COVID-19 government-related benefits and programs can greatly assist clients in their time of financial crisis, members must apply caution and maintain their ethical standards when assisting in determining eligibility.

Members are reminded not to associate with any activity that they know, or should know, to be unlawful.

Do you need guidance?

CPABC has professional standards advisors who are here to help. You can contact them for confidential guidance to ensure that you stay compliant with the Code when navigating difficult situations:


This article was provided by the Professional Conduct department of CPABC.


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