A note from the Executive Director on Social Distancing and CPAs
April 9, 2020
I have received a number of calls from CPAs regarding the question of operating their public accounting practices while maintaining social distancing. Many CPAs are receiving calls from clients asking for in-person meetings. Some CPAs feel that their clients are simply reaching out for social contact, and are asking if they will get fined if they hold in-person meetings?
My answer is twofold:
One, the Board does not enforce public health mandates. The Board’s authority to impose fines and discipline is limited to the Public Accountancy Act RCW 18.04. While there is some tangential connection to violations of other state laws, public health isn’t one likely to be brought under our authority in any event. If you get fined for holding an in-person meeting with your clients by another civil authority that is who you will be dealing with. Seek the advice of a competent legal advisor if you feel you need to.
Second, and the most important issue to my way of thinking, is the CPA’s general obligation to the public. Many of us never thought that this would extend to the circumstances of a viral pandemic, but here we are.
People are feeling confined and are starving for social contact. Many are stunned by sudden job losses, the impact on their business, and the recent correction in the financial markets. If you’re getting calls from your clients, it probably means they are looking to you as trusted individual with their best interests at heart. That is probably a correct assumption on their part. Maybe you didn’t think you would ever be looked up to as a guiding light in a storm, but again, here we are.
Here are my suggestions:
Forego in-person meetings. Heed the Governor’s order. Social distancing is our only weapon at this time. It is crucial that you protect yourselves and your clients by not giving the COVID-19 virus an opportunity to spread. For some, as you know, this pathogen is a very efficient killer.
Second, reach out to your clients, by phone, and assure them that they need to stay the course by staying home and not take unnecessary risks. You can talk about taxes, you can talk about jobs or the markets, but mostly, just listen. You don’t have to be a mental health counselor to check in on people and let them know that you care. If they need more than you can provide, suggest that they seek additional resources within the community such as calling 211.
Executive Director, Washington State Board of Accountancy