No Licensed Clinical Social Worker ever wants to get notice of a complaint from the Social Work Board. If you received such a notice from the Board, you may be uncertain about what to do next, what the procedures are, and what the results may be. You may also be trying to decide whether you need to retain an attorney or firm to represent or assist you in responding to the complaint.
Our firm represents applicants seeking a license and licensees in responding to the Board and defending against allegations of misconduct. Representation at the inquiry stage is significantly less expensive than in a formal evidentiary public hearing; therefore, the investment in protecting your certificate or license and livelihood generally is more cost-effective in the earlier stages. Our firm’s best opportunity to assist you in obtaining a favorable or acceptable outcome is in these early stages. We have a good working relationship with counsel for the Board and may be able to negotiate an acceptable resolution without the need for a formal hearing.
To engage in clinical social work, you must obtain a license as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). The Board also offers the following voluntary certifications for non-clinical work: Certified Social Worker (CSW), Certified Master Social Worker (CMSW) and
Certified Social Work Manager (CSWM). Information about the qualifications and requirements for a LCSW and the three other voluntary certifications are set forth on the Social Work Board’s website at http://www.ncswboard.org/page/certification-licensure.html. We will refer to all these categories of licenses or certifications collectively herein as “Social Worker(s)” or “licensee(s).”
In the sections below, we attempt to address some of the questions you may have and explain the general process, procedures, and possible results.
NC Social Work Board – Composition and Authority
As background, the North Carolina Social Work Certification and Licensure Board was created by the N.C. legislature. The Board consists of seven members appointed by the Governor. At least two members of the Board will be Certified Social Workers or Certified Master Social Workers, three members will be Licensed Clinical Social Workers, and two members will be from the public. The Board must also be comprised of at least one member who is primarily engaged in social work education, at least one member primarily engaged in social work in the public sector, and at least one member primarily engaged in social work in the private sector.
The Board has the power to adopt and enforce regulations and laws pertaining to social work certification and licensure including the power to adopt ethical and disciplinary standards. The Board is also authorized to receive and investigate complaints against individuals who are certified or licensed by the Board and allegations of violations of the Social Work Certification and Licensure Act and Rules governing social work practice in North Carolina.
Regarding certificate holders and licensees, the Board may deny, suspend, or revoke an application, certificate, or license; issue a reprimand or censure; order probation; require supervisions; or otherwise limit the practice of a social worker upon proof that the applicant, certificate holder, or licensee has engaged in prohibited actions.
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.
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:
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:
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.