Discipline Process

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A. Receiving a complaint

The discipline process is a legal process. The Health Professions Act and the Social Work Profession Regulation define the actions that can or must be followed in each case. When a complaint or information that is treated as a complaint is received about a Registered Social Worker, the process begins.

Within 30 days of receiving a complaint or treating information as a complaint, the Complaints Director must notify the complainant of what actions have taken place regarding the complaint. Section 55 of the HPA defines the alternatives available to the Complaints Director at this point: The complaints director

  1. May encourage the complainant and the investigated person to communicate with each other and resolve the complaint
    1. May with the consent of the complainant and the investigated person, attempt to resolve the complaint
  2. May make a referral to an alternative complaint resolution process under Division 2
  3. May request an expert to assess and provide a written report on the subject-matter of the complaint
  4. May conduct, or appoint an investigator to conduct an investigation
  5. If satisfied that the complaint is trivial or vexatious, may dismiss the complaint
  6. If satisfied that there is insufficient or no evidence of unprofessional conduct, may dismiss the complaint, and
  7. May make a direction under section 118

If the complaint is dismissed, the Complaints Director must notify the complainant within 30 days of their right to apply for a review by a complaint review committee. A request for review must be made in writing within 30 days of receiving notice of the dismissal.

If the Complaints Director determines that there is sufficient evidence that the social worker may have acted unprofessionally, the first action is normally to contact the social worker. In most cases, initial contact is made by telephone to let the social worker know a complaint has been received. If appropriate, an attempt may be made to resolve the matter informally as per Section 55(2)(a) or 55(2)(a.1) or to make a referral to alternate complaint resolution.

In cases where the Complaints Director decides to request an expert assessment or initiative an investigation, the registered social worker is notified of the complaint and given details on the matters to be addressed. In most cases, a copy of the original complaint is given to the social worker. The social worker may be asked to respond to the complaint in writing.

B. Investigating a complaint

The people who investigate complaints about social work practice are normally registered social workers who have received training specific to this role. Their job is not to prove innocence or guilt. It is their responsibility to gather factual evidence with regard to the complaint. Investigators normally begin by interviewing the complainant to gather further details about the allegations so as to ensure that the investigation will be complete. The social worker will also be interviewed, and both primary parties may identify other people that they think could provide additional useful information. The investigator will also ask for copies of documents that pertain to the complaint and may ask for samples of other work by the social worker for comparison. The Health Professions Act authorizes the investigator to copy and keep documents, to view originals and if necessary take them away. The length of an investigation varies according to several things, including availability of people and information, complexity of the complaint, and legal or employment matters that may be involved.

C. Deciding on a complaint

Once the investigation is complete, the Complaints Director decides whether there is sufficient evidence to support the complaint or if the matter should be dismissed. If the complaint is dismissed, the complainant has the right to an appeal within 30 days. If there is evidence to support the complaint, the matter is referred to the Hearings Director for a hearing. Hearing tribunals include a minimum of two social workers and one public member.

A hearing is a formal process set out in the legislation. Witnesses may be called by the College or by the RSW, documents are placed in evidence, the proceedings are recorded, and a decision is issued upon completion. The decision may be appealed to Council.

D. Actions

In the majority of cases that result in a sanction against a social worker, the requirement is for something educational. Social workers have been directed to take a course, to work under supervision, to deal with an impairment that impacts their ability to work, to take some action to demonstrate their learning, and to share their learning with others through presentation or publication. As the cost of discipline is quite high, social workers are often asked to pay a small portion of the total. In rare cases, a social workers practice permit or registration may be suspended or cancelled.

Copyright 2010 Alberta College of Social Workers