A formal complaint against a social worker or social service worker initiates regulatory proceedings at the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (“College of Social Workers”). For social workers and social service workers, these proceedings have the potential to result in professional consequences. As a result, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of the process for responding to complaints.
Social workers or social service workers who are subject to a formal complaint will be notified in writing that the College of Social Workers has received a complaint and will be provided with a copy of this complaint. Reasonable information about any allegations contained in the complaint will also be provided with the complaint. An investigator will be assigned to investigate the matter, and may interview witnesses, perform inspections and compile documents related to the complaint.
The College of Social Workers is required to consider and investigate written complaints regarding the conduct or actions of its members. As members of the College of Social Workers, social workers and social service workers have a duty to cooperate with their College during an investigation.
A member of the College of Social Workers facing a complaint will be provided with at least 35 days to deliver a written response to the complaint. Whether or not social workers or social service workers consider complaints to be legitimate, they should prepare a response. Preparing an effective response can be challenging and time-consuming. Social workers or social service workers may find it prudent to speak with a lawyer who has experience with professional regulation when doing so. Once retained, legal counsel will typically become the main point of contact with the College of Social Workers, assisting with the response and any other issues that may arise.
Once an investigation into a social worker or social service worker matter has concluded, the Complaints Committee will receive and review the complaint file. If the Complaints Committee considers it appropriate to do so, and the member and the complainant agree, a complaint matter may be referred for alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”).
The Complaints Committee may ultimately make any of the following dispositions:
- Direct that the matter be referred to the Discipline Committee
- Direct that the matter be referred to the Fitness to Practise Committee
- Require the member be cautioned
- Take any other appropriate action
- Take no further action
A copy of the written decision by the Complaints Committee will be provided to the social worker or social service worker complained against once decided. Decisions of the Complaints Committee are not public.
Undergoing regulatory proceedings at the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers can be stressful and consuming. Complaints can result in a decision which can have a significant impact on a social worker or social service worker’s ability to carry on their practice. Consulting a lawyer who practises in the area of professional regulation can assist in preparing an effective response to a complaint at the College of Social Workers, as well as provide guidance in dealing with any procedural issues.