Complaints / Discipline Process
Information for Registered Social Workers
Complaints against registered social workers are quite rare. That does not mean, however, that complaints are not a serious issue. Only a social worker who has been through the complaint process knows what it is like to have their practice challenged or to feel the fear that his or her future may be irrevocably changed.
It would be easy to say, “Just follow the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice and you won’t have to worry about complaints,” but that is not necessarily true. We all have an occasional bad day when we can make a mistake that is not typical of our overall practice. We are also likely to work with some individuals who are very hard to please; who can always find something to complain about. What we can all count on is that a process is in place which treats all parties fairly and impartially.
If you are the subject of a complaint, the best way to get through the process is to be honest with the investigator and provide whatever information is requested. No one expects perfection: if you recognize that you have made an error, admit it and accept the consequences. Credit may be given to a social worker who demonstrates learning from the experience. If you honestly do not believe there is any validity to the allegations, provide your evidence in a courteous manner. The investigator is not “out to get you” and can only base the report on the facts as presented.
In most cases yes you will. If the matter is to be investigated you will be provided with written notice of the complaint and given details on the matters to be investigated. In most cases, a copy of the original complaint is sent with the letter. You may be asked to respond to the complaint in writing at this time.
If a complaint is received that is clearly frivolous or vexatious, you may be notified. Such complaints are dismissed without investigation, although the complainant has a right to appeal. The social worker normally receives a copy of the letter dismissing the complaint. When a complaint is submitted anonymously, it is most often ignored and the social worker is not notified.
There are two alternatives specified in the Health Professions Act. Under section 70, you may submit a “written admission of unprofessional conduct” which would go directly to a hearings tribunal. If the admission is accepted in whole or in part, the tribunal can choose to go directly to hearing without an investigation. In such cases, there is generally a Consent Agreement developed jointly by the social worker and the College acknowledging agreed facts about the complaint and proposing sanctions.
The Health Professions Act also includes the option of Alternative Complaint Resolution if both the complainant and the regulated professional are willing to participate in a process together. This is intended to be a non-adversarial process leading to a joint decision. A resolution resulting from this process must be ratified by a Complaint Review Committee when it is developed. Alternative processes may include mediation, sentencing circles, or other processes appropriate to the issues being addressed.