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New York Social Worker Privilege (CPLR section 4508)

In today’s post, I’m going to go over New York’s Social Worker evidence privilege under section 4508 of New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR). In past posts, I’ve gone over various other New York evidence privileges, such as the Rape Crisis Counselor privilege, the Library Records privilege, the Psychologist-Patient privilege, and the Clergy privilege. I’m guessing that most people have heard of the Attorney-Client privilege also. As with those posts, remember here that an evidence privilege is — in essence — the ability to refuse to disclose or forbid the use of information that would otherwise be evidence in a legal dispute of some kind. The rationale is that a higher purpose (e.g. allowing a person in need to quickly obtain frank and honest medical or legal advice) is served by allowing the person to speak freely without worrying that what they say could be used against them.

Anyway, that said, New York’s Social Work privilege is in CPLR section 4508. The main part of that is 4508(a), which states:

“A person licensed as a licensed master social worker or a licensed clinical social worker under the provisions of article one hundred fifty-four of the education law shall not be required to disclose a communication made by a client, or his or her advice given thereon, in the course of his or her professional employment, nor shall any clerk, stenographer or other person working for the same employer as such social worker or for such social
worker be allowed to disclose any such communication or advice given thereon… “

The terms “licensed master social worker” and “licensed clinical social worker” are defined in section 7701 of New York’s Education Law.

Section 4508 then goes on to recite exceptions in which the social worker privilege doesn’t apply. For instance:

  • a social worker may disclose information to the extent that the client authorizes;
  • the social worker is not required to withhold information from the client regarding the contemplation of a crime or harmful act;
  • when the client is a child under age 16 and the social worker obtains information showing that the client has been the subject or victim of a crime, that social worker may be required to testify in regards in proceedings (e.g. in court) related to that crime;
  • Finally, if the client accuses the social worker of a crime or other misconduct, the social worker may reveal communications with the client in order to defend themselves.

Lastly, section 4508(b) describes that if the client is required to disclose their communications in order to obtain insurance benefits, that disclosure does not count as a waiver of the privilege.

As always, I hope this post helps. It is not intended as an exhaustive discussion of New York’s Social Worker privilege. If you intend on relying on the information presented in this post, please do your own research as it is entirely possible that the authorities I cite to above could have changed in the time between when I wrote this post and when you’re reading it. If you have a situation that involves New York’s Social Worker privilege, please do find an attorney in your area with whom you can discuss your case face-to-face. Lastly, here is my disclaimer pursuant to section 470 of New York’s Judiciary Law: As of the date of this post, I do not have a physical office in New York state and, thus, do not take clients in New York. If you need a referral to a lawyer in New York, I would be happy to make one if I can.

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Andy Chen

Andy I. Chen is a lawyer licensed to practice law in California and New York. Andy maintains offices in Los Altos, California and Modesto, California. Under the New York Court of Appeals' 2015 decision in Schoenefeld v. State of New York, Andy does not accept cases from those in New York state. He does, however, know many lawyers in New York state and would be happy to make a referral.

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