Mandatory reporting

You as an employer are now required to report to the SWRB if you have any concerns about any of your social workers in regard to serious misconduct, or health issues, or competence.

This is part of changes required under legislation as public safety is paramount.

The SWRB Code of Conduct and core Competence Standards set out the minimum standards of conduct, integrity, and competence required of registered social workers.

1. Serious Misconduct

It is expected that employers will address any breaches of the Code of Conduct by a social worker in their employ but, when the misconduct is deemed serious, employers are required by law to promptly report it to the SWRB.

When and how to report

Employers are required by law to promptly report to the SWRB if they believe a social worker they employ has done something that meets the SWRB criteria for serious misconduct. (These criteria may differ from how serious misconduct is defined in an employment setting.)

If you have reasonable grounds to believe that one of your social workers has done something that meets the criteria for reporting below, and the conduct:

  • has, or is likely to have, an unduly adverse effect on the wellbeing of anyone with whom the social worker comes into contact in their work
    or
  • reflects adversely on the social worker’s fitness to practice,
    then you are required to report it.

Your report (fill out the form at the bottom of the page) must:

  • be made promptly
  • be made in writing
  • describe the circumstances of the alleged misconduct
  • detail the grounds for your belief
  • include any available supporting information
  • outline any action taken by you, the employer

If you have taken action that includes a confidential agreement with the social worker concerned, you are still required to report the conduct. The obligation to report overrides any privacy and employment obligations, so long as the report is made in good faith.

What I need to report – criteria

Criteria

  • Using or encouraging the use of unjustified physical force on any person
  • Neglect or ill-treatment of any vulnerable person
  • Neglect or ill-treatment of any animal
  • Theft, dishonesty or fraud
  • Viewing, accessing, or possessing pornography or offensive material in the workplace or in the course of social work practice
  • Involvement in the manufacture, cultivation, use and/or supply of non-prescribed drugs
  • Use of non-prescribed drugs or alcohol while engaged in the course of social work practice
  • Breach of professional boundaries or use of power imbalance for personal gain
  • Engaging in inappropriate contact, behaviours, or communication
  • Forming an inappropriate relationship with a client with whom the social worker is, or was when the relationship commenced, in contact as a result of his or her position as a social worker
  • Sexual or psychological abuse
  • Gross negligence in social work practise
  • Any act or omission that could be the subject of a prosecution for an offence with a maximum penalty of three or more months imprisonment
  • Any act, omission, and/or pattern of behaviour that is likely to bring discredit to the social work profession
  • Misconduct that results in dismissal from employment

The following table gives some examples of possible serious misconduct under the criteria above. This list of examples is not exhaustive, it is intended as a guide only. If you are still unsure as to whether a mandatory report is required, please ring  to talk to a Professional Standards team member on 0508 797 269.

Criteria Guidance
Using or encouraging the use of unjustified physical force on any personExcludes approved actions taken when necessary to prevent injury or harm.
Neglect or ill-treatment of any vulnerable personIncludes ongoing neglect of duty e.g. failure to follow-up having agreed to provide resourcing and support.
Neglect or ill-treatment of any animal
Theft, dishonesty or fraude.g. personal use of resources intended for clients; receiving money from client and using for purposes other than the client’s benefit.
Viewing, accessing, or possessing pornography or offensive material in the workplace or in the course of social work practice.The workplace includes use of work devices and any place where the social worker may be carrying out their duties.
The context should be considered in determining whether material is offensive.
Involvement in the manufacture, cultivation, use and/or supply of non-prescribed drugs
Use of non-prescribed drugs or alcohol while engaged in the course of social work practiceNon-prescribed for that person. Includes taking medication prescribed for anyone else
Breach of professional boundaries or use of power imbalance for personal gainIncludes using professional position to act as a legal agent (e.g. power of attorney) for a client or former client. Personal gain includes sexual gratification.
Engaging in inappropriate contact, behaviours or communications in the course of social work practicee.g. using the professional relationship to build a sexual relationship with a client, a client’s family member or a student (in the academic environment). Includes inappropriate communications via social media.
Forming an inappropriate relationship with a client with whom the social worker is, or was when the relationship commenced, in contact as a result of his or her position as a social workere.g. forming an inappropriate relationship with a client (past or present)
Sexual or psychological abuseMay include belittling or demeaning acts where they form part of a pattern of behaviour, even if some of the acts when viewed in isolation are minor or trivial.
Appropriate performance management by employer is not regarded as psychological abuse
Gross negligence in social work practisee.g. repeated failure to:
– make contact with clients at risk,
– record interventions,
– appropriately assess and identify risk,
– provide necessary follow-up to clients.
Any act or omission that could be the subject of a prosecution for an offence with a maximum penalty of three or more months imprisonment
Any act, omission, and/or pattern of behaviour that is likely to bring discredit to the social work professionExcludes appropriate non-violent activism e.g. participation in demonstrations/protests
Misconduct that results in dismissal from employment

What happens when I report

What happens when I report?

The SWRB will acknowledge receipt of your report. Other actions will be determined according to the details of the individual case. Depending on what is required, the SWRB may:

  • seek further information from you or other parties
  • provide information about the report to  relevant parties (including the social worker who is the subject of the report)
  • refer the reported concerns to an external agency e.g. NZ Police, Health and Disability Commissioner, etc
  • make further enquiries before deciding on the appropriate course of action

In some cases no further action will be required; other cases may be referred to a Professional Conduct Committee (which may in turn refer the case to the disciplinary tribunal), or pursued as a competence, or health matter under the Social Workers Registration Act 2003.

Does reporting prevent me from taking other action?

Making a report of serious misconduct does not prevent you from commencing or continuing your usual employment process in relation to the report you have made, nor is a report intended to replace the appropriate action that may be required by you as an employer.  The SWRB may decide to take interim action, or defer further action until the employment process is complete.

An employer who makes a report in good faith is protected by law.

2. Health issues

Employers are required to promptly report to the SWRB any health issues that may be impacting upon the social worker’s practice.

When, what and how to report

If an employer believes on reasonable grounds that a social worker is unable to practice satisfactorily because of a mental or physical condition they must report that to the SWRB. 

  • The report must be in writing (please use the form at the end of this page)
  • state the grounds for the belief and
  • describe what action they have taken

Mandatory reporting criteria

Social workers and employers of social workers are required to report to the SWRB:

  1. if they believe that because of a health condition, a social worker:
    1. acts or fails to act in ways that put clients, colleagues, or themselves at risk, or
    2. shows impaired decision making or judgment, or
    3. is unable to safely manage the usual functions of their social work role, or
  2. if a social worker resigns or leaves their employment while under a management plan or receiving extra support from their employer because of a health condition

Managing notifications about social workers with health conditions is not a disciplinary process. It is about the SWRB Registrar working with the social worker to manage their health in a way that is safe for the social worker and the public. Recognising this, the principles for managing health reports are outlined in the table below.

Principles guiding SWRB approach to health concerns

ConfidentialReports and cases of social workers with health conditions will be handled in accordance with the Privacy Act 1993.
HolisticA social worker about whom a health report is made is a person, not a condition. The SWRB aims to uphold the mana and dignity of the social worker. The social worker is encouraged to have a support person to journey with them through the process.
ConsultativeSocial workers who are the subject of health reports will:
• be kept fully informed
• be able to have their say
• be invited to take an active part in the process
If a social worker is unable to practice safely, a voluntary agreement will be sought as the first preference. This may consist of a safety plan, conditions on practice or a period of stand-down from practice.
Regulatory enforcement will be used as a last measure if a suitable voluntary agreement cannot be reached.
SWRB may seek advice from a registered health professional when necessary.
RehabilitativeThe SWRB’s main purpose is to protect the safety of members of the public, however the health process also aims to support registered social workers to manage their own health and wellbeing and where possible to continue or return to practise safely.
LawfulThe SWRB will only become involved in cases where it believes a social worker’s ability to practise safely may be impaired. The SWRB will act in accordance with the Social Workers Registration Act 2003

Process

We are currently reviewing the SWRB process for working with social workers who have health conditions. The process will be developed based on these principles.

3. Competence

If an employer has concerns about a social worker’s competence, there is a two step process.

  • The first step for the employer is to investigate and provide assistance to improve competence. 
  • If there are still issues after assistance to improve competence, the employer must report that to the SWRB.
How to report
  • The report must be in writing (please use the form at the end of this page)
  • state the grounds for the belief and
  • describe what action you have taken

In summary, employers are required to report to the Board on employment issues affecting social workers that could pose a risk to public safety.  Previously these issues may have been dealt with as a private matter between employer and employee. The public interest in protecting the safety of the public and having social workers that are fit to practise, competent and accountable for the way they practise outweighs the principles of privacy. If you’re unsure about whether to report, call us: 04 931 2650 or 0508 797 269