How to deal with conduct complaints

A Social Work Union Guide

Question
I’ve been suspended following a serious allegation against me by a service user. I am currently awaiting the completion of my employer’s investigation. I am confident I will be exonerated. Do I need to inform the regulatory council* at this stage?

Answer
Yes. It is very important that you inform the regulatory council immediately if you are subject to formal disciplinary procedures or suspended from work pending the investigation of a disciplinary matter. Even if you are advised by your employer that they have already informed the council you must refer yourself at this stage. The council will then make inquiries about the allegations.

The regulatory council may take no further action until the outcome of your employers’ investigations and the disciplinary hearing. However, if the allegation is deemed to be serious enough, the regulatory council could conduct its own investigation and refer the matter to the Preliminary Proceedings Committee (PPC) before the completion of the employment-based disciplinary process.

The purpose of the regulatory council investigation is to determine whether ‘there is a real prospect of a finding of misconduct’. If the allegations are considered sufficiently serious it may decide to apply for an Interim Suspension Order (commonly referred to as an ISO).

To obtain an ISO the regulatory council must be able to demonstrate that such an order is: a. Necessary for the protection of members of the public b. Otherwise in the public interest c. In the interests of the registrant [you the social worker] concerned. The regulatory council may rely on one or all of these conditions in seeking an ISO. The burden of proof is on the regulatory council to demonstrate that these conditions are met. It is important to note that even if the employers’ disciplinary hearing decides on a sanction which falls short of dismissal – for example, a final written warning – the regulatory council may still decide to proceed against you if it takes the view that there is a public protection or public interest issue involved.

Question
I am an agency worker. My manager at a previous work placement has passed a complaint received by the local authority from a member of the public to the regulatory council, which is now investigating. I feel I have been scapegoated because of my employment status. Am I allowed to practise in the meantime?

Answer
The short answer is yes. Unless an ISO has been imposed or your case has proceeded to a full conduct hearing and you have been de-registered, you are fully entitled to practise and to continue to describe yourself as a social worker.

There has been a worrying rise in cases where employers are referring agency workers to the regulatory council. Many of these referrals will have little prospect of amounting to a complaint that might lead to an ISO or de- registration. Too often they are issues that, if the social worker was a permanent employee, would be dealt with in supervision or by a relatively low level disciplinary intervention.

The injustice for agency staff is that a permanent employee would at least have the benefit of due process through the employers’ disciplinary procedures and/or full pay during any suspension period. Despite the well established principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, agency workers find it very difficult to find work during council investigations.

However, it is not impossible and there have been cases where agency workers have managed to secure work placements while under investigation. Make sure your agency sends prospective employers as many positive references as possible from past jobs as well as the latest one. Remind them that you are perfectly entitled to practise; there is a lot of misunderstanding of this issue. Be prepared to discuss the situation fully at interview with prospective employers.

Managers do, of course, have a responsibility to mention in references matters which they believe might affect the safety of service users and colleagues. Too often though they will refer to issues which may be unproven and contested.

Get in touch with BASW immediately. We will try to reason with the employer and persuade them to provide a factual and fair reference. We will speak to the agency to ensure they understand the situation fully.

Whatever your status, a referral to the regulatory council and the subsequent procedure can be daunting and complex.

Published : 2nd January 2012*

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* Although BASW has prepared the information contained within Social Work Knowledge with all due care and updates the information regularly, BASW does not warrant or represent that the information is free from errors or omission. Whilst the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of the information. The information may change without notice and BASW is not in any way liable for the accuracy of any information printed and stored or in any way interpreted and used by a user.