HB 1840 deals with one provision of the ACA Code of Ethics, which governs Tennessee counselors, by providing civil and criminal protection for counselors who refer patients to other providers if the client’s goals conflict with the counselor’s sincerely held principles or religious beliefs.

  • Section 1 restores to counselors in private practice the right to make a referral if they cannot, in good conscience, help a client achieve the client’s goals and objective or affirm the client’s desired behaviors.
  • Section 2 deletes the new provision of the ACA Code that prohibits referrals in such instances. The deletion makes the ACA Code itself consistent with Section 1 relative to counselors in private practice and keeps the ACA Code from violating the Title VII rights of counselors who work in the government sector.
  • The bill was made necessary because the ACA in 2014 eliminated the ability of a counselor to refer a client on the basis of the counselor’s sincerely held religious beliefs.

All other provisions of the ACA Code remain in place, including numerous restrictions governing referrals. For example:

  • Counselors must respect the diversity of clients. (A.4.b)
  • Counselors must provide pre-termination counseling and recommend other service providers when necessary. (A.11.c)
  • When a counselor does refer a client, he or she must ensure that appropriate clinical and administrative processes are completed and open communication maintained. (A.11.d)
  • Counselors cannot abandon or neglect their clients. Counselors must assist in making appropriate arrangements for the continuation of treatment when necessary, during interruptions such as vacations, illness, and following termination. (A.12)
  • Counselors do not condone or engage in discrimination against prospective or current clients. (C.5)

This bill does not allow for discrimination of any kind or lessen professional accountability. A counselor in violation of any of the above provisions is subject to discipline under Tennessee law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires employers to accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious belief unless such an accommodation puts an undue burden on the employer. This bill ensures that Tennessee law (as dictated by the ACA Code) does not violate Title VII. The current ACA Code, arguably, is in violation of Title VII because it prohibits referrals (i.e. accommodations) based on personally held values or beliefs.