Ethics FAQs - International Coaching Federation
COVID-19 Resources for ICF Coaches

ETHICS FAQs

Find answers to frequently asked questions about the ICF Code of Ethics below. We have organized questions and answers according to relevant ethical standards.

  • Standard 1

    As an ICF Professional, I explain and ensure that, prior to or at the initial meeting, my coaching Client(s) and Sponsor(s) understand the nature and potential value of coaching, the nature and limits of confidentiality, financial arrangements, and any other terms of the coaching agreement.

    Q: My clients often ask how long coaching takes. Can I give an average time?

    A: You can say that many of your clients receive coaching for X amount of sessions or months, but it varies by individual goals and ability to implement new skills.

  • Standard 2

    As an ICF Professional, I create an agreement/contract regarding the roles, responsibilities and rights of all parties involved with my Client(s) and Sponsor(s) prior to the commencement of services.

    Q: After several meetings with my client, he has begun to cancel appointments at the last minute. I think I should charge him, and my contract does not cover this. May I send him a bill for the missed meetings?

    A: If you have not contracted with the client to pay for missed meetings, you should honor your original agreement and may not charge for canceled meetings. You may, however, attempt to re-contract.

    Q: When my client began coaching I was charging a certain rate and the sponsor paid that amount. My client took a three-month leave of absence and during that time I raised my rates. I feel it is fair to ask the sponsor for my new fee.

    A: You should honor the original agreement you and your client and sponsor signed if the contract is still valid. You may open negotiations to begin a new agreement.

    Q: Must I have a contract for a nine-year old client?

    A: Depending on local laws, if the person is a minor, the contract should include the sponsor as well as the client.

    Q: When I coach within my own company, is this necessary?

    A: Yes. Particularly, in this case, these need to be clarified both with the client and sponsor.

    Q: Must I have an agreement with pro bono clients who do not pay for my services?

    A: Yes, because there is more to an agreement than just the fee. Responsibilities and expectations must be clearly defined for this to be a professional coaching relationship. For the agreement to be considered valid under the law in many jurisdictions, a nominal amount of money must be transferred from the one receiving the services to the one delivering the services (e.g., $1 USD in the USA, 1 Euro in Europe).

  • Standard 3

    As an ICF Professional, I maintain the strictest levels of confidentiality with all parties as agreed upon. I am aware of and agree to comply with all applicable laws that pertain to personal data and communications.

    Q: During an interview for a research project (or journal article or media event) the interviewer asks me how many female executives I have coached, in what countries and what states, and whether she can have contact information to follow up. May I give her this information?

    A: You may give information that can never be traceable back to the person, such as how many and in which country or state. This satisfies the principle of anonymity. You may not give contact information without the client’s permission. If you include sharing of contact information in your initial agreement that is fine; otherwise you must contact your clients and/or their sponsors or former clients and/or their sponsors and ask permission.

    Q: My colleague asks me in which information technology companies I have had as clients. May I tell him? May I mention companies on my website?

    A: This issue is very complex. Besides the confidentiality, it may have legal implications of copyright infringement. Your contract with both the client and the sponsor should be specific to whether you may use their name. Be aware that contracts of your client and/or sponsor may include language regarding this issue. The best practice to maintain good client relationships is to request the client’s and/or sponsor’s permission to use their name and or/logo, if not explicitly stated in your contract.

    Q: Is it acceptable to keep my calendar that includes clients’ appointment times visible on my desk or at the reception desk?

    A: No, because anyone walking by can read the names of your clients.

    Q: Can I use former clients as references for prospective clients?

    A: Yes, but only if you have specific permission from the client or sponsor to do so. Provide the prospective client with the (specific) person’s contact information.

    Q: My client asks if I know anyone working in retail management so he can contact them to make progress on his job search in that field. He wants contact information. Some of my former clients would be perfect for him. May I give him their names and contact information?

    A: Not without permission from the former clients.

    Q: Is verbal permission for release of confidentiality acceptable or must I obtain it in writing?

    A: It is more solid and irrefutable in writing.

    Q: I am coaching Jane. A peer of hers, Alice, requests me to be her coach. Do I need to let Alice know I am already coaching Jane?

    A: No, you do not need to. Unless you have Jane’s consent, you may not even mention it. Be aware, however, that this could present conflicts with confidentiality. Potential general conflicts should be clarified with each party.

  • Standard 4

    As an ICF Professional, I have a clear understanding about how information is exchanged among all parties involved during all coaching interactions.

    Q: The HR department is paying for my coaching services for six clients and they signed the agreement as the sponsor. The accounting department needs information about how many meetings I anticipate so they can do budget projections for the upcoming year. May I give accounting this information?

    A: It is recommended that this information is obtained directly from the sponsor.

    Q: Next, accounting wants to know which departments my clients are in. May I give accounting this information?

    A: It is recommended that this information is obtained directly from the sponsor.

    Q: They now want the names of the clients as well. May I give accounting this information?

    A: It is recommended that this information is obtained directly from the sponsor. However, if not possible, you may give this information only with receiving the clients’ and sponsor’s permission.

    Q: A 360-degree assessment came back from an external vendor. I am hired to coach a team of managers using this data. The first step is to design a developmental plan for each member of the team and the team as a whole. HR wants to know the coaching objectives we developed for their internal productivity study. May I share the objectives I generate with my clients with HR?

    A: Ideally this should have been covered by the agreement when the coaching agreement was set up. If not, however, it can be provided with the client’s and sponsor’s permission.

    Q: I am coaching a 12-year old boy and his father calls me to ask how it is going. May I speak with him in generalities?

    A: Only if your client agrees or has agreed already in the contract that all three of you have signed.

    Q: The supervisor of my new client has a coaching outcome that he does not want the client to know about. I am being paid out of the supervisor’s budget. May I keep this information from my client?

    A: This sets up an ethical conflict. How can you coach someone without having clarity and an agreement about what is being coached? Whatever you put in your agreement that all three sign is what is acceptable.

    Q: May I coach a business client who has some personal outcomes that are not shared with the sponsor?

    A: Coaching for personal outcomes is an integral part of all professional coaching. Whatever is stated in the contract or agreement will govern what can be shared.

  • Standard 5

    As an ICF Professional, I have a clear understanding with both Clients and Sponsors or interested parties about the conditions under which information will not be kept confidential (e.g., illegal activity, if required by law, pursuant to valid court order or subpoena; imminent or likely risk of danger to self or to others; etc.). Where I reasonably believe one of the above circumstances is applicable, I may need to inform appropriate authorities.

    Q: After triads of coaching students have practiced coaching, the entire group convenes to share experiences. One of the coaching students mentions personal information that was shared in the small group without having asked the other student if this was ok. Isn’t this acceptable because this is just training and not real coaching with real clients?

    A: No, unless there have been confidentiality ground rules clarified in advance to permit this. Ground rules should be explicit about when, why and how confidential information can be shared. Ground rules have to also be specific about confidentiality and/or anonymity.

    Q: I share with my coach training colleague about a coaching incident in which I learned something that concerns me about the student’s health. My colleague goes directly to the student and asks if she can help. Is this a violation of confidentiality?

    A: This depends on the confidentiality policy in place for the training. It must be shared with faculty and students. It may allow for collegial sharing for training purposes.

  • Standard 6

    As an ICF Professional, when working as an Internal Coach I manage conflicts of interest or potential conflicts of interest with my coaching Clients and Sponsor(s) through coaching agreement(s) and ongoing dialogue. This should include addressing organizational roles, responsibilities, relationships, records, confidentiality and other reporting requirements.

    Q: How do I ensure there are no misunderstandings between the involved parties?

    A: Whatever is determined by your organization, be sure all parties are privy to the agreement and aware of all the relationship dynamics to ensure transparency.

  • Standard 7

    As an ICF Professional, I maintain, store and dispose of any records, including electronic files and communications, created during my professional interactions in a manner that promotes confidentiality, security and privacy and complies with any applicable laws and agreements. Furthermore, I seek to make proper use of emerging and growing technological developments that are being used in coaching services (technology-assisted coaching services) and be aware how various ethical standards apply to them.

    Q: Do I have to provide client records in case of subpoena or ethical complaint?

    A: This will vary by country and jurisdiction, but generally, yes. Consider carefully what you put in your records.

    Q: How long do I have to keep client records?

    A: There is no ICF guideline at this time. You should check your local and national laws and regulations for compliance guidelines. If you are audited for income taxes, be sure to protect confidentiality.

    Q: How should I dispose of records?

    A: To the best of your ability you should delete all online and electronic records, as well as shred paper records.

  • Standard 8

    As an ICF Professional, I remain alert to indications that there might be a shift in the value received from the coaching relationship. If so, make a change in the relationship or encourage the Client(s)/Sponsor(s) to seek another coach, seek another professional or use a different resource.

    There are no FAQs associated with Standard 8 at this time.

  • Standard 9

    As an ICF Professional, I respect all parties’ right to terminate the coaching relationship at any point for any reason during the coaching process subject to the provisions of the agreement.

    Q: My client paid in full and we agreed to 10 coaching meetings. After six meetings, my client wants to stop. She says she wants her money back because she has not received the value she expected. Must I give it back?

    A: If you did not clarify what might happen under these circumstances then you must discuss this with your client. You may attempt to negotiate with the client to be paid for services rendered to date. It would be advisable to return either the amount beyond services rendered to date, the entire amount minus an administrative fee or the entire amount. Use your best judgment and remember that how you handle this will craft your reputation.

  • Standard 10

    As an ICF Professional, I am sensitive to the implications of having multiple contracts and relationships with the same Client(s) and Sponsor(s) at the same time in order to avoid conflict of interest situations.

    There are no FAQs associated with Standard 10 at this time.

  • Standard 11

    As an ICF Professional, I am aware of and actively manage any power or status difference between the Client and me that may be caused by cultural, relational, psychological or contextual issues.

    There are no FAQs associated with Standard 11 at this time.

  • Standard 12

    As an ICF Professional, I disclose to my Clients the potential receipt of compensation, and other benefits I may receive for referring my Clients to third parties.

    Q: I am coaching someone who needs a service. I know of a resource for him and I receive a referral fee from the resource. Do I have to disclose this to the client?

    A: Yes, you do.

    Q: I received a surprise gift of baseball tickets from my realtor after I referred my client to her. Must I tell my client I received these tickets?

    A: If the gift was not anticipated and happens after the referral is made, no disclosure is necessary.

    Q: If I have a multi-level marketing business, can I sell my product to my coaching clients?

    A: The coaching relationship might be impaired if you sell other products to the client, as the client might perceive undue pressure to purchase from you.

  • Standard 13

    As an ICF Professional, I assure consistent quality of coaching regardless of the amount or form of agreed compensation in any relationship.

    Q: My client says she does not have the money to pay for my coaching services and requests to barter. She believes she cannot make enough money to pay for the things she wants. Does her belief impair the coaching relationship?

    A: It might, so you would need to explore further before coming to a conclusion.

    Q: Can I charge different rates for different clients depending upon circumstances (e.g., welfare, corporate clients, friends, family)?

    A: Yes. Best practice includes having a Rate Sheet that defines your pricing structure. This provides transparency. Keep in mind that the more rates you have, the more cumbersome is your business administration.

  • Standard 14

    As an ICF Professional, I adhere to the ICF Code of Ethics in all my interactions. When I become aware of a possible breach of the Code by myself or I recognize unethical behavior in another ICF Professional, I respectfully raise the matter with those involved. If this does not resolve the matter, I refer it to a formal authority (e.g., ICF Global) for resolution.

    Q: I have seen an ICF Coach promoting themselves as a PCC when they actually hold an ACC Credential. How should I handle this?

    A: This is the essence of the self-regulating nature of our industry and a necessary component. If the incident is a direct violation of the ICF Code of Ethics, you may submit a complaint through the formal Ethical Conduct Review (ECR) process. If not, send the concern to the ICF Ethics Assist line at ethics@coachfederation.org.

  • Standard 15

    As an ICF Professional, I require adherence to the ICF Code of Ethics by all Support Personnel.

    Q: I have a virtual assistant in another part of the country whom I have never met in person. I give her names of clients and contact information so she can confirm meetings and send emails. Do I need an ICF Ethics agreement with her?

    A: Yes.

    Q: My young daughter helps me with minor administrative office tasks such as filing clients’ files and preparing personalized coaching packages. Do I need an agreement dealing with ICF Ethics with her?

    A: Yes.

    Q: I subcontract with an OD firm to do assessments with my coaching clients. Do I need to make this firm adhere to the ICF Code – Confidentiality/Privacy standards?

    A: Yes.

    Q: I send audio and video recordings to a transcription service and I use the transcriptions for assessing student competencies. Do I need to make this firm adhere to the ICF Code – Confidentiality/Privacy standards?

    A: Yes.

    Q: I have an agreement with my assistant, and it includes the ICF Ethics related standard on the Ethics Code and we both signed it. She violates this clause. Who is responsible? Me or her or both of us?

    A: The coach is responsible for the violation.

  • Standard 16

    As an ICF Professional, I commit to excellence through continued personal, professional and ethical development.

    Q: If I am an ICF Member, is it a Code violation if I don’t participate in continuing education every year?

    A: No, but we certainly encourage continuing education so one may refine their skills. However, as an ICF Credential-holder, you do commit to continuing education to enhance your skills in some capacity and it is required to renew your credential.

  • Standard 17

    As an ICF Professional, I recognize my personal limitations or circumstances that may impair, conflict with or interfere with my coaching performance or my professional coaching relationships. I will reach out for support to determine the action to be taken and, if necessary, promptly seek relevant professional guidance. This may include suspending or terminating my coaching relationship(s).

    There are no FAQs associated with Standard 17 at this time.

  • Standard 18

    As an ICF Professional, I resolve any conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest by working through the issue with relevant parties, seeking professional assistance, or suspending temporarily or ending the professional relationship.

    Q: May I accept a coaching contract for a corporate mid-level manager when I am already coaching his boss?

    A: You may accept this contract if you think that you can maintain an objective stance and confidentiality with both clients. You can discuss in general terms with the first client how he would feel about you, coaching someone else in the company. Be aware it could present a conflict of interest while coaching, however, in hiring and firing decisions, etc.

    Q: If I am an internal manager, should I coach someone if I also have input into the performance evaluation?

    A: This would appear to be a conflict of interest, and you should probably not coach this person. You may use coaching competencies at any time, such as Active Listening and Powerful Questioning, etc. However, because you are the manager, the fact that you are going to be evaluating your employee might inhibit openness and trust in the relationship.

  • Standard 19

    As an ICF Professional, I maintain the privacy of ICF Members and use the ICF Member contact information (email addresses, telephone numbers, and so on) only as authorized by ICF or the ICF Member.

    Q: Can I advertise my coaching school’s new course by emailing coaches in my area?

    A: No. Unsolicited “spam” emails are a violation of the ICF Code of Ethics, as well as many domestic and international privacy laws.

  • Standard 20

    As an ICF Professional, I identify accurately my coaching qualifications, my level of coaching competency, expertise, experience, training, certifications and ICF Credentials.

    Q: I have coached two executives; can I say I’m an experienced Executive Coach?

    A: This could be misleading. Perhaps saying “I have coached executives,” would be more appropriate. However, someone who has coached two executives for a length of time through a lot of issues might be experienced. It seems to be a personal judgment call.

  • Standard 21

    As an ICF Professional, I make verbal and written statements that are true and accurate about what I offer as an ICF Professional, what is offered by ICF, the coaching profession, and the potential value of coaching.

    Q: I have a master’s degree in communication. Can I put that on my coaching website and just say I have a master’s degree?

    A: Whatever degrees and credentials you choose to put on your site should clearly state which degree goes with which profession so that the information presented is not misleading. For example, a master’s degree in communication is clearly stated whereas a master’s degree by itself might mislead the reader to think that it is in coaching.

    Q: I have been coaching for many years and collecting data about the success rate of my clients. May I share the results I have with prospective clients?

    A: It is okay to share data that is appropriate and accurate without enhancement or distortions, with no guarantees in any form. The prospective client can draw his/her own conclusions. Be sure to keep any data confidential as to client identification.

  • Standard 22

    As an ICF Professional, I communicate and create awareness with those who need to be informed of the ethical responsibilities established by this Code.

    Q: What if a client doesn’t get the desired results by the end of the coaching?

    A: The purpose of coaching is not solely for the client to get results. Explain to the client at the beginning (and maybe more times) that coaching inspires people to maximize potential, learning and increasing awareness in the process and having the ability to respond. It is the client’s responsibility to get results, the coach is there to be help them to achieve results by holding up the space, asking powerful questions to make the clients to get more awareness and witness them to do something with that awareness.

  • Standard 23

    As an ICF Professional, I hold responsibility for being aware of and setting clear, appropriate and culturally sensitive boundaries that govern interactions, physical or otherwise.

    Q: Is it OK to give my clients a brief hug after our meetings?

    A: The coach is responsible for setting and respecting culturally appropriate physical boundaries, which includes sensitivity to the client’s boundaries and expectations. If the client initiates, the coach may choose to reciprocate or not. The coach may not initiate the hug.

    Q: I know a lot about nutrition from dieting and taking vitamins and my client has a goal to know more about nutrition. May I share with her what I know?

    A: More appropriate than giving her information would be to encourage her to find an expert or consultant who is trained in that area. Recommending a professional nutritionist, websites, literature, books would all be acceptable.

    Q: My client wants to explore how her past relationships have formed her beliefs about current relationships. I have a degree in psychology and learned a lot about that topic. Can I devote time to coaching her about this?

    A: If you are not a practicing psychologist or therapist, it is not appropriate to bring this information into the coaching relationship and you should encourage your client to find another professional to help. If you are trained, you could consider creating a separate agreement to deal with this after your coaching relationship has ended. Whereas you might be clear enough in the role differentiation, likely it would be confusing to the client to have you as a therapist and coach even if not at the same time.

  • Standard 24

    As an ICF Professional, I do not participate in any sexual or romantic engagement with Client(s) or Sponsor(s). I will be ever mindful of the level of intimacy appropriate for the relationship. I take the appropriate action to address the issue or cancel the engagement.

    Q: Does this mean I cannot coach my spouse, partner, or significant other?

    A: As coaching your spouse/partner/significant other may offer opportunities for conflicts of interest, as well as confidentiality problems, it is not recommended to do so unless you are absolutely sure that the past memories, things you know about your spouse/partner/significant other will not interfere with your coaching performance or your professional coaching. A new level of intimacy may not be initiated during the coaching relationship. For example, the coaching relationship must end if you agree to date someone you are coaching in response to their request for the same.

    Q: If my client invites me out to a social engagement, may I accept?

    A: Accepting the engagement would be appropriate if:

    • The coach and client both think that the coaching relationship would not be impaired
    • The coach can remain objective in the coaching meetings

    If, however, the coach finds it difficult to maintain the boundaries of a coaching relationship with the client, then the coach has the option to terminate the relationship and refer the client to another coach. A good guideline is that whatever the nature of the relationship prior to beginning coaching is where it should remain throughout the duration of the coaching arrangement.

  • Standard 25

    As an ICF Professional,  I avoid discrimination by maintaining fairness and equality in all activities and operations, while respecting local rules and cultural practices. This includes, but is not limited to, discrimination on the basis of age, race, gender expression, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability or military status.

    Q: How can I better understand what determines discrimination when coaching clients?

    A: Refer to state, provincial or national law to determine what is considered discrimination in your area.

  • Standard 26

    As an ICF Professional, I recognize and honor the contributions and intellectual property of others, only claiming ownership of my own material. I understand that a breach of this standard may subject me to legal remedy by a third party.

    Q: I have worked with a business partner in the past and now I am on my own. Can I use the tools and documents that we created when we were together?

    A: The correct answer is whatever you and your former business partner had agreed to. If there was no specific agreement, discuss it before doing it to avoid an unnecessary conflict.

    Q: I found an excellent 20 item questionnaire used to attract clients on another coach’s website. May I use some of the questions on my website without getting permission?

    A: No, you may not use them without obtaining permission.

    Q: I wish to provide documentation of the effectiveness of coaching to a company who might buy my services. I have two articles that make my points about the great ROI coaching can bring. Do I need to contact the author or publisher to use some of the points to make a PowerPoint presentation for my marketing pitch?

    A: Yes.

  • Standard 27

    As an ICF Professional, I am honest and work within recognized scientific standards, applicable subject guidelines and boundaries of my competence when conducting and reporting research.

    Q: Does this mean I have to conduct research as an ICF coach?

    A: Though we encourage continual learning, you are not required to conduct research. If you do, it is imperative that it be of the highest quality so be sure to follow recognized scientific methods/procedures and abide by relevant country law.

  • Standard 28

    As an ICF Professional, I am aware of my and my clients’ impact on society. I adhere to the philosophy of “doing good,” versus “avoiding bad.”

    There are no FAQs associated with Standard 28 at this time.

Not a member?

Sign up now to become a member and receive all of our wonderful benefits.

Learn more