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Responding to an Inquiry and Investigation

If you received an inquiry letter from the Board, this generally means the following has occurred: a complaint and evidence have been submitted to the Board and reviewed by staff. An initial letter has been sent to you noting the complaint and the specific ethical standard brought into question and requesting a response to the allegations. An investigator from the Board may be assigned to gather additional information and prepare a summary report for the Board Review Committee.

In addition, the Board staff may initiate staff-opened cases where the staff has received information from various sources. Upon receipt of the information, the staff will review the information and determine whether a case should be opened. In this case, you may receive a letter summarizing the case and requesting a response. You are required to fully cooperate with the Board in connection with any inquiry the Board makes.

In drafting a response to any inquiry, it is important for you to include all information and documentation necessary to fairly and fully respond to the allegations. However, it is equally important for you to include only the pertinent information and documentation. We help our clients make these judgments and determinations from an objective standpoint and with experience in defending Social Work Board matters. We regularly assist clients with written responses and in dealing with the stress that typically comes with defending such matters.

After receiving the written response, the Board may: investigate the matter further; close the case without taking further action; offer a proposed consent order to dispose of the case; hold an informal conference, if requested; or commence a formal hearing by serving a Notice of Charges on the certificate holder or licensee, if there is credible evidence to suggest that a significant violation may have occurred or the matter cannot be resolved.


The certificate holder or licensee may be offered a resolution of the case, which is followed by a proposed consent order. Typically, this process is done via the mail, with the Board and the Social Worker/licensee, through his or her legal counsel, exchanging counter-proposals. At any time in that process, either party may request an informal conference and the Board Review Committee may grant or deny the request. If the request is approved, two members of the Board and the Social Worker/licensee meet in-person to consider the possibility of disposing of the dispute without a formal hearing. The Social Worker/licensee may be represented by counsel at that conference. All matters contained in a potential consent order must be agreed to by the Board Review Committee and the Social Worker/licensee and then ultimately approved by the full Board.

We help our clients evaluate and determine whether they should accept a proposed consent order, including whether to negotiate the terms, and also represent them in informal conferences. The Board generally has more flexibility regarding disciplinary actions in negotiating and entering into consent orders than it does after formal hearings. This flexibility is one reason we attempt whenever possible to reach a consent order and avoid a formal hearing for clients, if a matter reaches this stage of the proceedings.

Public Hearing

If the matter is not dismissed and a settlement cannot be reached, the case will be scheduled for a formal public hearing. The Board will give the certificate holder or licensee in a contested case a Notice of Charges setting forth the allegations and hearing date. In some cases, the Board may issue an order summarily suspending a certificate or license. Upon service of the order, the certificate holder or licensee must immediately cease the practice of social work in North Carolina. The Board will then promptly give notice of formal hearing. The suspension will remain in effect pending a final agency decision.

All formal hearings are conducted by the Board. The Social Worker/licensee has the right to present evidence in defense, including calling witnesses and introducing exhibits, making objections, cross-examining any witness called by the Board, and making a closing argument. If they have not done so already, many Social Workers/LCSWs decide that they need to retain a firm or attorney at the formal public hearing stage.

Possible Discipline and Outcomes of the Public Hearing

After a formal hearing, the Social Work Board may issue an Order determining there has been a violation and imposing discipline. The Board may, in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 150B of the General Statutes, deny, suspend, or revoke an application, certificate, or license of a Social Worker/LCSW on any of the following grounds:

  1. Conviction of a misdemeanor or the entering of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to a misdemeanor under this Chapter;
  2. Conviction of a felony or the entering of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to a felony under the laws of the United States or of any state of the United States;
  3. Gross unprofessional conduct, dishonest practice or incompetence in the practice of social work;
  4. Procuring or attempting to procure a certificate or license by fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation;
  5. Any fraudulent or dishonest conduct in social work;
  6. Inability of the person to perform the functions for which he or she is certified or licensed, or substantial impairment of abilities by reason of physical or mental disability; or
  7. Violations of any of the provisions of this Chapter or of rules of the Board.

The Board may also impose conditions of probation or restrictions upon continued practice at the conclusion of a period of suspension or as a requirement for the restoration of a revoked or suspended certificate or license.

If the Board determines an applicant, certificate holder, or licensee has engaged in any of the prohibited actions listed above, the Board may, in lieu of denial, suspension, or revocation, take one or more of the following actions:

  1. Issue a reprimand or censure;
  2. Order probation with conditions deemed appropriate by the Board;
  3. Require examination, remediation, or rehabilitation, including care, counseling, or treatment by a professional designated or approved by the Board, the cost of which shall be borne by the applicant, certificate holder, or licensee. Specifically, in considering whether an applicant, certificate holder, or licensee is mentally or physically capable of practicing social work with reasonable skill and safety, the Board may require an applicant, certificate holder, or licensee to submit to a mental examination by a licensed clinical social worker or other licensed mental health professional designated by the Board and to a physical examination by a physician or other licensed health professional designated by the Board. The examination may be ordered by the Board before or after charges are presented against the applicant, certificate holder, or licensee and the results of the examination shall be reported directly to the Board and shall be admissible in evidence in a hearing before the Board;
  4. Require supervision for the services provided by the applicant, certificate holder, or licensee by a certified or licensed social worker designated and approved by the Board, the cost of which shall be borne by the applicant, certificate holder, or licensee; and/or
  5. Limit or circumscribe the practice of social work provided by the applicant, certificate holder, or licensee with respect to the extent, nature, or location of the services provided.

An Order issued by the Board may be appealed to Superior Court. Generally, it is much more difficult for a licensee to prevail once the matter reaches the court system on an appeal, even if he or she retains legal counsel at that point.

Impact of Decision of Whether to Retain an Experienced Law Firm

The Board will report all negative disciplinary actions through the Public Protection Database, the National Practitioner Data Bank – Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank, and may report them to any requesting public or private entity. The following negative actions will be reported: (1) Injunctions for unlicensed practice; (2) Issuance of a cease and desist order; (3) Revocation; (4) Suspension; (5) Censure; (6) Reprimand; (7) Probation; (8) Withdrawal or denial of initial applications or reapplications proximate to an ethics matter; (9) Surrender of certification or license during an investigation; (10) Practice limitations; and (11) Limitations on the right of a licensee or certificate holder to supervise. However, for reporting purposes the following matters do not constitute negative actions: (1) Monitoring independent of restrictions or discipline; and (2) Letters of concern.

If you have received a letter from the Board staff or have a pending formal hearing, you should consider retaining a firm like ours that has experience representing applicants, certificate holders and licensees before the North Carolina Social Work Certification and Licensure Board. Disciplinary action could have a significant and permanent impact on your certificate(s) or license(s) in NC and other states, which also can substantially affect you financially and personally. Hiring an experienced law firm can be an investment in your professional future. Our general explanation of board procedures has a more detailed discussion of how we may be able to assist you in informal proceedings and formal proceedings.

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