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Obligations of community workers and their organisations

Community workers have obligations to their clients, their employer or organisation and may also have obligations to Government and other bodies.

Obligations may also be called duties or accountabilities.

Obligations of community workers

Obligations of community workers can arise in a number of different ways. They may be ethical, legal, moral or contractual, or a combination of these.

It is important to understand that many of the dilemmas that face community workers are about conflicting obligations. For example, dilemmas arise when obligations to your client conflict with obligations to your employer as defined by such documents.

Obligations of community workers to their organisation generally arise as a consequence of working under a contract (or terms of employment) or in the case of volunteers, under an agreement or compact. Such documents can take the form of induction policies, conduct rules, procedures, guidelines, mission statements, services charters or a combination of these.

Obligations of organisations

Organisations may have a range of obligations under funding service agreements and contracts for services. These types of obligations must be distinguished from the obligations of individual community workers, though they are often interlinked or enmeshed.

For example, a service agreement might require an organisation to provide confidentiality to clients whilst a community worker might have their own obligations under a code of conduct to keep client information confidential. In this case there is no conflict between the obligations, they are in fact the same. The obligations would only be in conflict if the level or scope of confidentiality varied between the organisation and the community worker.

An example of obligations to government or third parties is child protection legislation, which contains mandatory reporting provisions that override other obligations or duties and must be obeyed by law. A dilemma obviously arises where a community worker is compelled to disclose client information to government authorities even though they have an obligation to maintain client confidentiality.