Social workers devote themselves to working on behalf of those who often need help the most in our society. Their tireless dedication fills a void for many people who have no one to advocate for them. However, even social workers are not immune from complaints from others claiming that they haven’t done their jobs right. 

Even if you think there is no basis for the complaint against you, you must take it seriously. You worked hard to get your license, and you need to take the necessary measures to protect it. Don’t allow a complaint to put your license and your career in jeopardy. When you are in this situation, the attorneys at Bertolino, LLP, can help. 

Licensing and Regulation of Social Workers in Texas

The Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council (BHEC) is the state agency that oversees the licensing and regulatory boards for social workers, marriage and family therapists, professional counselors, and psychologists. The Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners licenses and regulates social workers. These entities publish a Consolidated Rulebook for Social Workers that contains the rules and laws that social workers must follow, including the Social Work Practice Act. 

When a Client Files a Complaint Against a Social Worker

Members of the public can file complaints with the BHEC about social workers. BHEC considers these complaints to be timely if individuals file them within five years of the date that social worker’s services terminated. If the complaint involves sexual misconduct, the complaint must occur within seven years of the date that the services terminated. Special rules apply to complaints arising out of court-ordered evaluations. Typically, these complaints must contain extensive additional documentation and may not occur until the trial court has entered final judgment or dismissed the case. Finally, a person cannot file a complaint involving a school-related issue without first exhausting all their administrative remedies. 

Investigation

The Enforcement Division of BHEC initially determines whether it has jurisdiction over the complaint. If so, BHEC considers whether the complaint states an allegation that violates the applicable rules or laws within its jurisdiction to enforce. 

BHEC investigates all complaints promptly. They generally must complete the phases of the investigation for which they are responsible within 30 days of receiving the complaint and notify the parties if those phases must go beyond that timeframe. However, they do prioritize complaints, as follows:

  • Cases involving imminent harm to the public or a member of the public 
  • Cases involving sexual misconduct
  • Cases involving applicants for licensure
  • Cases involving all other violations of state and federal law

BHEC also notifies the license holder of the complaint by certified or registered mail. The investigator assigned to the complaint will draft an investigation report and a recommendation as to whether probable cause exists that a violation has occurred.

Probable Cause Determination

The Enforcement Division Manager and legal counsel will review the investigation report and determine whether probable cause exists. If there is no probable cause, staff will refer the complaint to the BHEC Executive Director for dismissal. If there is probable cause, the case is referred for an informal conference by agency staff or a BHEC Disciplinary Review Panel. 

The Informal Conference

You can appear at that informal conference with your lawyer to discuss the investigative findings, proposed settlement, and recommended sanctions. In some cases, you may be able to reach an agreement on how to handle the disposition of the case. However, if you cannot resolve the case through the informal conference process, BHEC will make an informal disposition of the complaint. In other words, BHEC could remand the complaint for further investigation, dismiss the complaint, or recommend the complaint to progress to a contested hearing for you to receive disciplinary sanctions. 

Filing a Contested Case

If the case remains contested and the parties cannot resolve it by agreement, BHEC refers the case to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). SOAH assigns an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to the case and schedules a hearing. In many ways, a hearing before SOAH progresses similarly to a hearing in court, with some modifications. 

Disposition of the Case

After the hearing, the ALJ makes findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations as to sanctions in the form of a proposed final disposition to the licensing board. The board reviews the recommendations, makes necessary modifications to the proposed recommendations, and forwards them to the BHEC for review. The BHEC must approve and enter all orders following a contested case where the parties have not reached an agreement as to disposition. 

We Are Here to Defend You Before the BHEC

When you receive a complaint from BHEC that could impact your social work license, you may be unsure where to turn first. Our professional license defense attorneys stand ready to represent your interests and defend you from the allegations against you. Call us today at (512) 515-9518 to reach the offices of Bertolino, LLP, or contact us online.

Call or text (512) 476-5757 or complete a Case Evaluation form