Complaints and Discipline Procedures
Responsibilities of the Board of Examiners and the Association:
Social Workers who practice social work in Nova Scotia are required to be registered with the Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers. The government of Nova Scotia has given the Association the responsibility to govern itself through the Social Workers Act (1993). The profession is regulated through a twelve member Board of Examiners appointed by both the Association and the Nova Scotia Government.
Regulating the practice of social workers means that the Association, through its Board of Examiners, has the responsibility to protect the public from persons who are not qualified to practice social work or whose competence or professional conduct as a social worker is questioned. The Association's objective is to ensure that the public receives the services of proficient and competent social workers of high ethical standards.
There are two ways that the Board of Examiners can exercise its powers under the Social Workers Act to protect the public. First, it does so by accepting for licensure those applicants who meet the academic, years of experience and basic level of skills through a candidacy program. Second, it investigates complaints against members who are alleged to be incompetent or accused of professional or ethical misconduct and may take appropriate action to discipline a member in accordance with its mandate to protect the public interest.
Who can make a complaint?
Anyone may make a complaint in writing against a member who has experienced:
- professional misconduct
- a breach of the code of ethics
- conduct unbecoming by a Registered Social Worker, a Registered Social Worker Candidate or a Registered Social Worker (Provisional)
A complaint is made in writing addressed to the Deputy Registrar of the Board of Examiners. Members of the public are encouraged to contact the Deputy Registrar's office by phone before sending a complaint to determine if the person is a member of the Association.
What happens when a complaint is received?
Once the Complaints Committee confirms that the person is a Registered Social Worker or a Social Worker Candidate, the Committee proceeds to review the complaint and investigate the matter.
If it is determined that your complaint is not within the jurisdiction of the Social Workers Act to investigate, then you will be contacted and informed of this decision. If the complaint is one that can be investigated, then you will be informed of this decision. A copy of the written complaint will be forwarded to the member who is complained against and the member is given at least three weeks to respond. Correspondence from the member and complainant is shared with each other respectively.
The Complaints Committee may offer you the option of mediation to attempt to resolve the complaint. You are not obligated to accept mediation. If mediation resolves the complaint, the matter is closed.
If the Complaints Committee investigates and determines that the facts as alleged, if shown to be true, would constitute a violation of the Social Workers Act or the Code of Ethics, the Complaints Committee may direct that the matter be dealt with under section 29(2) of the Social Workers Act in the following manner:
- dismiss the complaint;
- attempt to resolve the matter informally;
- with the consent of both parties, refer the matter, in whole or in part, for mediation;
- counsel the social worker or social worker candidate;
- reprimand the social worker or social worker candidate, with that person's consent;
- with the consent of the social worker or social worker candidate, require that person to undergo such treatment or re-education as the Committee considers necessary;
- refer the matter, in whole or in part, to the Discipline Committee.
The Complaints Committee will give its decision in writing to the Deputy Registrar, including reasons for the decision. The Deputy Registrar will deliver or send to the complainant and to the member of the Association complained against, a copy of the written decision of the Committee and its reasons (section 29(4) of the Act).
How long does the complaints process take?
The goal is to address all complaints in a timely and efficient manner while at the same time ensuring that each complaint is dealt with fairly and balances the rights of the complainant and the member. The time required to address the complaint also is determined by the nature and complexity of the complaint.
What happens when the complaint is referred to the Discipline Committee?
When the complaint is referred to the Discipline Committee, the Committee holds a hearing. The parties at the hearing are:
- the member
- the Board
The member is notified in writing of the time and place for the hearing as well as the specific allegations with which the member is charged.
At anytime after the Complaints Committee refers the matter to the Discipline Committee and before the commencement of the discipline hearing, the member may propose, in writing a settlement agreement, which may or may not be accepted by the Discipline Committee.
What happens at a hearing of the Discipline Committee?
The Discipline Committee is composed of five members, four of whom are members of the Board of Examiners. One of the four must be an appointee of the Governor in Council who is not a social worker. The fifth member must be a member in good standing of the Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers.
Usually, the hearing takes place at the Association's offices in Halifax and all efforts are made to schedule the hearing at a time that is mutually convenient to all parties.
The hearing is presided over by the Chair of the Discipline Committee who is appointed by the Board of Examiners.
How does the Discipline Committee make its decision?
The Committee listens to the evidence presented to it and after the conclusion of the hearing the Committee meets in private to consider the evidence. The Committee must consider the relevant facts of the matter and may find that there is evidence to prove that the member is guilty of incompetence, misconduct, conduct unbecoming or in violation of the Code of Ethics. In the event there is a finding against the member, the Committee must consider sanctions that will be applied. When their decision has been made the Committee will prepare written reasons to support their decision.
These decisions may be made immediately after the hearing but if this is not possible, the Committee must arrange for a further meeting and come to a decision on the matter. When the decision and the reasons are prepared the member and the complainant are notified in writing.
What sanctions can be applied by the Discipline Committee?
If the Committee finds that the allegations have not been proved, then the complaint is dismissed.
If the Committee finds that the allegations have been proved in whole or in part, it may find that the member is guilty of incompetence, misconduct, conduct unbecoming or a violation of the Code of Ethics and impose one or more of the following sanctions:
- revoke the member's right to practice
- suspend the member's right to practice for a limited period of time
- impose undertakings, conditions and limitations on the member's right to practice
- reprimand or counsel the member
- revoke or suspend the member's right to practice in their specialty
- impose a fine
- repay or reduce the fees charged by the member
- publish the order of the Committee in the official publication of the Association
- fix the costs of the proceedings to be paid by the member
How to make a complaint:
If you are concerned about the conduct or the competence of a social worker or a social worker candidate, you may contact:
Kevin MacDougall, Regulatory Practice Coordinator
Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers
Suite 700, 1888 Brunswick Street
Halifax N.S. B3J 3J8
Telephone: (902) 429-7799 ext. 222
Fax (902) 429-7650