Process – Information for Employers

As a social work employer, you have a responsibility to work with NLCSW and your employees, to ensure professional standards are maintained. When there is a concern regarding a social worker’s professional conduct, NLCSW has a formal complaints process in place, guided by provincial legislation.

Employer Initiated Complaint

The Social Workers Act contains duty to report provisions for employers. These provisions address the requirement for reporting to the registrar when a person terminates the employment of or dissolves a partnership with a social worker based on the direct knowledge of a social worker’s conduct deserving of sanction. There may also be other circumstances where an employer believes that a social work employee has conducted themselves in a manner that is unskilled or unprofessional and thus want to file a complaint.

All complaints must be submitted in writing and signed. NLCSW’s Complaint Form  can be used as a guide to document the complaint.  Any other relevant documentation may be included with the complaint form. While there is no time limit to filing a complaint, it is recommended that filing occur as soon as possible to ensure relevant documents and/or witnesses are available.

If filing a complaint against more than one social worker, a separate submission is required for each complaint.

The social worker is provided with a copy of all information submitted in the complaint to provide a written response.

Contact NLCSW’s Associate Registrar by phone (709-753-0200 ext. 202) or email ( with any questions regarding the filing process or duty to report requirements.

Non-Employer Initiated Complaint

Complaints can also originate from other sources, including clients or social work colleagues. Social workers must adhere to their own duty to report requirements as detailed in the legislation.

The social worker is provided with a copy of the complaint to submit a written response. While there is no mandatory reporting requirement for complaints external to the employer, NLCSW encourages social workers to inform their employer when a complaint is received. The NLCSW would inform the employer where there is a risk to the public. Depending on the nature of the complaint, the employer may consider providing supports to the social worker which may include a referral to an Employee and Family Assistance Program and/or providing a formal letter of support as part of the complaints process.


An alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process may be used to resolve the complaint, where appropriate. This process provides opportunity for a 3-way agreement between NLCSW, the complainant, and the social worker, that outlines actions to be taken by the social worker to address the issue(s) identified in the complaint.

If the complaint is not resolved through ADR, the written complaint and response will be referred to NLCSW’s Complaints Authorization Committee (CAC) for review. The CAC is comprised of three members from the NLCSW Board of Directors – two registered social workers and one public representative. 

In matters where more information is required, the CAC will order an investigation. Interviews will be conducted by an independent, trained investigator. The investigator may interview the complainant, social worker, and any other relevant witnesses. The investigator may also request any documentation relevant to the complaint, such as client files and human resource records. All interviews will be documented, and the results will be compiled in a report for the CAC to review.

The CAC can exercise various options throughout the process, as detailed in the Social Workers Act. Some examples include:

  • Dismissal of the complaint. A complaint may be dismissed, for example, if the CAC is satisfied that there is no evidence of unprofessional conduct, the complaint is without merit or vexatious.
  • Issue a warning or provide guidance regarding future considerations for practice.  This is referred to as a caution or counsel.
  • Referral to NLCSW’s Disciplinary Panel. The Disciplinary Panel is comprised of social workers and public representatives. A referral for a hearing is not a finding of guilt. This can only be determined after a hearing.  

Once a complaint is referred to NLCSW’s Disciplinary Panel, a hearing is convened to consider the evidence and to make a judgment.  

Any documents or information supplied throughout the course of a complaint or investigation may be used at a hearing.

The NLCSW and the social worker are parties to the hearing. The complainant may be called as a witness. Hearings are conducted similar to what one might expect from a court proceeding. This includes representation by legal counsel, subpoenaing of witnesses to provide evidence, and presentation of arguments.  Members of the public may attend the hearing.

If after a hearing, a social worker is found guilty of engaging in conduct deserving of sanction, one or more disciplinary sanctions may be imposed. The following are some examples:

  • Pass a specified course(s) of study
  • Require regular, focused supervision
  • Pay the costs associated with the complaints and discipline process
  • Restrict, suspend or cancel registration to practice social work

Hearing decisions must be circulated to at least 2 media outlets and accessible under the Social Worker Registry, as per the Social Workers Act.

Process and Practice

As detailed in the Social Workers Act, there are various options at the CAC’s disposal to address complaints against practice. Complaints are often resolved at the CAC level and do not require a hearing.  While a complaint is making its way through the process, practice is not impacted, except in rare circumstances where public protection warrants that registration be suspended or restricted.

Process Feedback

NLCSW is committed to advancing the complaints process through ongoing evaluation. Parties involved in the complaints process will receive an email invitation to participate in a NLCSW survey at the conclusion of the process. Responses are confidential and remain anonymous.

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