Professional ethics is a key source of credibility for the CPA profession. But what about conduct outside the office and its effect on your professional life? With the rise of social media’s prevalence, we have seen in numerous high-profile controversies how actions in a personal context can have dire professional implications.
Up-and-coming CPAs must ask themselves if their behavior outside the office and their social media footprint will help or hinder their careers?
Several high-profile individuals have suffered professional consequences for allegedly acting unethically and immorally in their personal lives. Accusations of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein quickly led to his dismissal from The Weinstein Company,1
and was a major catalyst for the #MeToo movement.
reported in June that “at least 414 high-profile executives and employees across numerous fields and industries” have been reported since then, leading to 190 of these being fired or quitting their jobs, with others facing investigations.2
A recent contestant on The Bachelorette
came under fire for “liking” offensive and insensitive content on Instagram. In 2013, Justine Sacco, senior director of corporate communications at IAC, posted an off-color tweet before an 11-hour flight. It went viral before she landed, and it resulted in her termination.3
A list of others can go on and on, but the common thread is that the questionable actions of professionals in their personal lives, especially on social media, can doom their careers.
Guidance for Emerging CPAs
CPAs are not in the limelight like the aforementioned examples, but they are not immune to professional exposure from personal actions. Many organizations have adopted codes of conduct or social media policies that outline their expectations. Typically, if an employee identifies herself with an organization, she is required to act within the employer’s behavioral framework. This includes online and outside work. Additionally, accounting professional organizations, including the PICPA, offer guidance on the governance of CPAs’ actions outside the office.
AICPA’s Code of Professional Conduct offers “guidance and rules to all members in the performance of their professional responsibilities,”4
but the Acts Discreditable rule implies that negative personal behavior can also have damaging professional consequences. The rule states that “a member shall not commit an act discreditable to the profession.”5
It lists different types of disreputable actions and behavior, including specific sections pertaining to discrimination and harassment.
The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) also include discreditable acts in their own respective Statement of Ethical Professional Practice and CFE Code of Professional Standards.
IMA’s statement calls for members to “abstain from engaging in or supporting any activity that discredits the profession” and to “contribute to a positive ethical culture.”6
The ACFE’s code states that “Certified fraud examiners shall not commit acts discreditable to the ACFE or its membership, and shall always conduct themselves in the best interests of the reputation of the profession.”7
Take Your Ethics Home
CPAs are formally bound by the ethical requirements of their respective state boards of accountancy, in addition to state and federal laws. However, the accountability for personal actions does not stop there. CPAs should be aware of their firm policies and procedures regarding social media, sexual harassment, discrimination, and ethical behavior. While an insensitive action, tweet, hashtag, or other social media post may not result in a felony or censure by an employer, it can still damage the professional reputation of the individual. Living in a connected world means that our ethical and moral behavior is more than a nine-to-five expectation.
1 Ben Fritz, Keach Hagey, and Erich Schwartzel, “Weinstein Co. Board Fires Harvey Weinstein, Citing Sexual Misconduct Allegations: Board Cites New Information about Hollywood Producer’s Misconduct,”
Wall Street Journal (Online, Oct. 8, 2017).
2 Jeff Green/Bloomberg, “#MeToo Has Implicated 414 High-Profile Executives and Employees in 18 Months,”
Time (June 25, 2018).
3 Ernie Suggs, “Social Media Rants Persist Despite Workplace Costs: Anything You Post ‘Has the Potential to Go Viral,’ Expert Says,”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (June 6, 2016).
4 American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, AICPA Code of Professional Conduct (2016).
5 [1.400.001.01], [2.400.001.01], and [3.400.001.01] of the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct.
6 Institute of Management Accountants, IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice (2017).
7 Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, CFE Code of Professional Standards (2018).
Ashley L. Stampone, CPA, is a faculty specialist in accounting at The University of Scranton in Scranton. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Related Professional Education