Ethics, Consulting, Fees and Billing: The Problem of Unexpected Expenses


An I/O consultant providing consultation services looks at consulting proposal and gives an estimate of services to be provided based upon a careful analysis of time and resources required to complete the company’s employment recruiting program.  However, after the initial interview with the HR staff, it is discovered that the process will be much more labor intensive than had been projected.  Feeling that it would be unethical to submit a bill for an amount to cover additional cost, the decision is made to absorb the cost. (Ford, 2006, p. 199)

Analyzing key ethical principles of the case that raises important questions about financial benefit that might impinge upon decision making and poses the question about what constitutes ethical behavior within a consulting role in this situation. This example presents a common problem that consultants might be faced with and presents a challenge to identify what issues are of concern and understand what the correct course of response may be when unexpected issues have an impact upon fees increasing.  How can the problem should be handled ethically?

The problem

The problem that is presented is whether it is ethical to change payment or billing amounts after discovering that a situation in a consult is more complicated after the fact. Narrowing the problem to an identifiable question redirects attention to asking what the code of ethics says about payment for services: 6.04 Fees and Financial Arrangements which states, “(a) As early as is feasible in a professional or scientific relationship, psychologists and recipients of psychological services reach an agreement specifying compensation and billing arrangements” (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2010).  One fundamental problem that is not answered in the study is whether or not informed consent is a part of the financial agreement for services. In 10.01 Informed Consent to Therapy, the stipulation is made that:

(a) psychologists inform clients/patients as early as is feasible in the therapeutic relationship about the nature and anticipated course of therapy, fees, involvement of third parties, and limits of confidentiality and provide sufficient opportunity for the client/patient to ask questions and receive answers (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2010).

As a result to make a decision, hypothetically there needs to be a Q&A with the consultant to determine if informed consent has been used and has the terms and course of the services for therapeutic services been accurately developed, presented, and an opportunity to a proposed plan of treatment to be executed.  A further problem that seems to be present is that only an estimation of anticipated cost has been given which may point to a competency issue in analysis of proposed services.

A Process

A recommendation that might prevent this situation is to make an attempt to be as thorough as possible in the preparation of informed consent documents that represent as accurately as possible the scope and terms of services rendered.  Another approach is to use an open clause in the process that stipulates what is understood to be a reasonable course of action and a disclaimer which allows the informed consent to have an addendum to services based upon research findings.  In the event that services are beyond reasonable limits for a client, then the practitioner has to make a value decision in how to proceed with consulting responsibilities.  In a question of feasibility of service, one question is centered in the general Principle B: Fidelity and Responsibility and Principle C: Integrity that may demonstrate a potential conflict in the Principle A: Beneficence and Nonmaleficence (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2010). Consequently, a decision must be evaluated in respect to the matter of whether the services offered can be provided at an optimum level that guards the principle of doing no harm, while providing services for the agreed terms.

References

Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2010. (n.d.). Retrieved August 29, 2010, from Amercan Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx

Ford, G. (2006). Ethical reasoning for mental health professionals. Thousand Oaks, California, USA: Sage Publications.

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3 thoughts on “Ethics, Consulting, Fees and Billing: The Problem of Unexpected Expenses”

  1. You’re so interesting! I don’t think I’ve read anything like that before. So wonderful to find someone with genuine thoughts on this subject matter. Really.. thank you for starting this up. This website is one thing that is required on the web, someone with a little originality!
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