Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics and Ethics Standards (2010)


The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics and Ethics Standards (2010) ("Code and Ethics Standards") is a public statement of principles used to promote and maintain high standards of conduct within the profession. Members of AOTA are committed to promoting inclusion, diversity, independence, and safety for all recipients in various stages of life, health, and illness and to empower all beneficiaries of occupational therapy. This commitment extends beyond service recipients to include professional colleagues, students, educators, businesses, and the community.

Fundamental to the mission of the occupational therapy profession is the therapeutic use of everyday life activities (occupations) with individuals or groups for the purpose of participation in roles and situations in home, school, workplace, community, and other settings. “Occupational therapy addresses the physical, cognitive, psychosocial, sensory, and other aspects of performance in a variety of contexts to support engagement in everyday life activities that affect health, well being, and quality of life” AOTA, 2004). Occupational therapy personnel have an ethical responsibility primarily to recipients of service and secondarily to society.

The Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics and Ethics Standards (2010) was tailored to address the most prevalent ethical concerns of the profession in education, research, and practice. The concerns of stakeholders including the public, consumers, students, colleagues, employers, research participants, researchers, educators, and practitioners were addressed in the creation of this document. A review of issues raised in ethics cases, member questions related to ethics, and content of other professional codes of ethics were utilized to ensure that the revised document is applicable to occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants, and students in all roles.

The historical foundation of this Code and Ethics Standards is based on ethical reasoning surrounding practice and professional issues, as well as on empathic reflection regarding these interactions with others (see e.g., AOTA, 2005, 2006). This reflection resulted in the establishment of principles that guide ethical action, which goes beyond rote following of rules or application of principles. Rather, ethical action is a manifestation of moral character and mindful reflection. It is a commitment to benefit others, to virtuous practice of artistry and science, to genuinely good behaviors, and to noble acts of courage.

While much has changed over the course of the profession’s history, more has remained the same. The profession of occupational therapy remains grounded in seven core concepts, as identified in the Core Values and Attitudes of Occupational Therapy Practice (AOTA, 1993): altruism, equality, freedom, justice, dignity, truth, and prudence. Altruism is the individual’s ability to place the needs of others before their own. Equality refers to the desire to promote fairness in interactions with others. The concept of freedom and personal choice is paramount in a profession in which the desires of the client must guide our interventions. Occupational therapy practitioners, educators, and researchers relate in a fair and impartial manner to individuals with whom they interact and respect and adhere to the applicable laws and standards regarding their area of practice, be it direct care, education, or research (justice). Inherent in the practice of occupational therapy is the promotion and preservation of the individuality and dignity of the client, by assisting him or her to engage in occupations that are meaningful to him or her regardless of level of disability. In all situations, occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants, and students must provide accurate information, both in oral and written form (truth). Occupational therapy personnel use their clinical and ethical reasoning skills, sound judgment, and reflection to make decisions to direct them in their area(s) of practice (prudence). These seven core values provide a foundation by which occupational therapy personnel guide their interactions with others, be they students, clients, colleagues, research participants, or communities. These values also define the ethical principles to which the profession is committed and which the public can expect.

The Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics and Ethics Standards (2010) is a guide to professional conduct when ethical issues arise. Ethical decision making is a process that includes awareness of how the outcome will impact occupational therapy clients in all spheres. Applications of Code and Ethics Standards Principles are considered situation-specific, and where a conflict exists, occupational therapy personnel will pursue responsible efforts for resolution. These Principles apply to occupational therapy personnel engaged in any professional role, including elected and volunteer leadership positions.

The specific purposes of the Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics and Ethics Standards (2010) are to

1. Identify and describe the principles supported by the occupational therapy profession.
2. Educate the general public and members regarding established principles to which occupational therapy personnel are accountable.
3. Socialize occupational therapy personnel to the practice to expected standards of conduct.
4. Assist occupational therapy personnel in recognition and resolution of ethical dilemmas.

The Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics and Ethics Standards (2010) defines the set principles that apply to occupational therapy personnel at all levels.



Principle 1. Occupational therapy personnel shall demonstrate a concern for the well-being and safety of the recipients of their services. (BENEFICENCE)

Principle 2. Occupational therapy personnel shall intentionally refrain from actions that cause harm. (NONMALEFICENCE)

Principle 3. Occupational therapy personnel shall respect the right of the individual to self-determination. (AUTONOMY AND CONFIDENTIALITY)

Principle 4. Occupational therapy personnel shall provide services in a fair and equitable manner. (SOCIAL JUSTICE)

Principle 5. Occupational therapy personnel shall comply with institutional rules, local, state, federal, and international laws and AOTA documents applicable to the profession of occupational therapy. (PROCEDURAL JUSTICE)

Principle 6. Occupational therapy personnel shall provide comprehensive, accurate, and objective information when representing the profession. (VERACITY)

Principle 7. Occupational therapy personnel shall treat colleagues and other professionals with respect, fairness, discretion, and integrity. (FIDELITY)


Ethics Commission (EC):
Kathlyn Reed, PhD, OTR, FAOTA, MLIS, Chairperson
Barbara Hemphill, DMin, OTR, FAOTA, FMOTA, Chair-Elect
Ann Moodey Ashe, MHS, OTR/L
Lea C. Brandt, OTD, MA, OTR/L
Joanne Estes, MS, OTR/L
Loretta Jean Foster, MS, COTA/L
Donna F. Homenko, RDH, PhD
Craig R. Jackson, JD, MSW
Deborah Yarett Slater, MS, OT/L, FAOTA, Staff Liaison
Adopted by the Representative Assembly 2010CApril17.

Note. This document replaces the following rescinded Ethics documents 2010CApril18: the Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics (2005) (American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 59, 639–642); the Guidelines to the Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics (American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 60, 652–658); and the Core Values and Attitudes of Occupational Therapy Practice (American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 47, 1085–1086). Copyright © 2010 by the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. To be published in 2010 in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 64 (November/December Supplement).