The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is an over-arching agency that presides over a number of professional boards and regulatory divisions. Their mission statement declares that they aim “to improve the health and well-being of Texas.” Each Professional Board under DSHS’s umbrella has their own rules and statutes, passed and promoted by their respective boards. The Texas Board of Examiners of Social Workers’ statutes are found at Texas Occupations Code, Chapter 505, and their rules and regulations are found at Title 22, Texas Administrative Code, Chapter 781.
When the Professional Board believes that a licensee’s behavior is in violation of their regulations for conduct, an investigation is launched and the licensee in question is afforded due process under the Board’s statutes. The Board has the authority to revoke, suspend, or deny a professional license if they feel a licensee has engaged in prohibited behavior. Some examples of common violations include:
- Maintaining a Dual Relationship
- Sexual Misconduct
- Criminal Conduct
- Impairment Due to Chemical Dependency or Mental Health
- Fraudulent Billing
- Failure to Keep Accurate Client Records
- Violations Related to Supervision Hours
- Release of Confidential Client Information
- Practicing using an Expired License
- Unethical/Unprofessional Conduct
- Failure to Cooperate with the Board
- Discipline in Another Jurisdiction
- Failure to Report Physical or Sexual Abuse
Social workers who are facing disciplinary measures from DSHS can defend themselves and their careers from the accusations they are facing. The administrative law attorneys at Leichter Law Firm PC, are well-versed in professional license defense and appear regularly before Boards that operate under DSHS. If you have been contacted by your licensing Board regarding disciplinary matters, call us for a free consultation about your options. We can help determine whether you would benefit from experienced counsel or not.
The Disciplinary Process
Communication between licensees and Board staff can be—and often is—used against the licensee as evidence in a hearing. Because of this, extreme caution should be taken in the event that a licensing Board issues a request for information. Many licensees find it in their best interest to hire legal counsel to communicate on their behalf so as not to incriminate themselves.
Initiation of Complaint
Before an investigation is launched, the Board must receive a complaint about a licensee’s conduct from a client, law enforcement agent, third party, or anonymous source. The Executive Director of the Board will consider the complaint and determine if it’s jurisdictional, or capable of being reviewed by a court. If the complaint is deemed jurisdictional, the licensee will be notified of the complaint filed against them and have an opportunity to issue a response. The Board will then ask the licensee to provide client records and other relevant information while they compile evidence pertaining to the complaint. The Executive Director then sends the case to be reviewed by the Ethics Committee.
Ethics Committee Review
The Ethics Committee is a counsel appointed by the Board chair that meets at regular quarterly intervals throughout the year. They are tasked with reviewing every complaint they receive with due consideration, taking care to make sure the complainant is given an opportunity to explain their allegations and dismissing complaints that do not warrant action.
Licensees who are in disciplinary reviews are given the opportunity to publicly address the Committee and answer any questions about the complaint. The committee then votes on whether to close the matter or issue a Notice of Violation.
Notice of Violation
If a Notice of Violation is sent to a licensee based on the Ethics Committee’s determination that a violation occurred, it will give a brief account of which Board statutes and rules were broken and how the licensee broke them. The notice will also have the Committee’s recommended discipline and a 15-day window during which the licensee can either accept or reject the discipline. If the licensee rejects the discipline, they can request an informal conference or a formal hearing to further discuss their case. If the Board does not receive a response, it will initiate default proceedings to implement the proposed discipline.
If the licensee chooses to attend an informal conference, the Executive Director will notify them of the time and place of the conference within 10 business days. The conference is attended by the director, one Board member, and the Board’s legal counsel. The licensee and their counsel may be asked questions, during which they can make a statement and present evidence as appropriate. At the end of the conference, the Executive Director and Board can make a recommendation for informal disposition of the case, potentially calling for the matter’s dismissal if they determine no violation exists or is out of the Board’s jurisdiction. Alternatively, the panel could recommend a lesser punishment.
Whatever recommendation the Board issues will be recorded in writing in an Agreed Order, a compilation of factual findings, conclusions of law, and proposed sanctions. The licensee may then either accept or reject the recommendations. Upon accepting, the Agreed Order goes before the full Board for approval, after which it becomes effective.
If the complaint is unresolved informally, the licensee is entitled to a formal hearing at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). During the hearing, both the Board and the licensee will present their case at trial by introducing evidence and calling witnesses. Both sides issue a closing argument, either in-person or through briefing.
At the hearing’s conclusion, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will examine the completed record and send his recommendation to all parties in a Proposal for Decision (PFD). This will go to the Board for their consideration before a final decision is agreed upon.
Contact a Social Worker License Defense Attorney
While an attorney can be helpful at any point during the licensing disciplinary process, it is much more effective to get in touch with one as soon as possible. The prospect of having your license revoked is terrifying, but you cannot allow this fear to press you towards inaction. Get in touch with the Leichter Law Firm PC, at (512) 495-9995 to learn more about how a professional license defense attorney may be able to help you.