When a Complaint Is Made
If a complaint is made about you, it’s important that you understand what is involved and what your responsibilities are. The information below will introduce you to the professional conduct steps and processes. It will help you learn about what you can expect and what’s expected of you.
What You Can Expect
Our professional conduct steps and processes follow Part 4 (Professional Conduct) of the Health Professions Act (HPA). We’ve put together an outline below, from complaint to appeal. It’s meant to give you the basics and doesn’t cover every possibility or detail. Therefore, we encourage you to review the HPA and seek answers to any questions you may have so you can make informed decisions.
What’s Expected of You
The Standards of Practice (12 Accountability) and the Code of Ethics (6.0 Dental Assistants and the College) require that you:
- know and comply with the requirements of our College
- communicate in a professional and timely manner
- provide information requested by our College
- respond appropriately and professionally
- participate fully and meaningfully in the professional conduct process
- take responsibility for your decisions and actions
Anyone can make a complaint to our College about your conduct as a dental assistant. As the dental assistant named in a complaint, you are referred to as the Investigated Person. Most of the complaints we receive are from patients, employers or coworkers. Complaints must be written and signed by the Complainant (the person making the complaint). Complainants may not be anonymous.
A complaint could involve any of the things described as unprofessional conduct in the HPA s1(1)(pp). Some examples are:
- sexual abuse and sexual misconduct
- unskilled, incompetent or illegal practice
- misrepresenting qualifications or registration status
- failing to practice to the standards in our Code of Ethics or Standards of Practice
- failing to comply with the competence program
- conduct that harms the integrity of the profession
- failing to comply with a complaint investigation
If we a receive a complaint about you, the Complaints Director may ask you to provide a written response about the complaint. This in an opportunity for you to give the Complaints Director information that describes your conduct from your point of view, and to describe anything that may help the Complaints Director learn about what happened.
Within 30 days of receiving a complaint, the Complaints Director must decide how to proceed. This may involve:
- suggesting you and the complainant try to resolve the concern
- suggesting a resolution
- beginning an investigation
- dismissing the complaint
We report on the outcomes of complaints in our Annual Reports.
Sometimes a complaint can be resolved by you and the Complainant talking about the issue and coming to an agreement about a solution. In this situation, the Complaints Director may use either of the first two examples of how they can proceed (listed above). This is considered informal resolution.
If informal resolution isn’t appropriate, the Complaints Director may proceed to an investigation.
The Complaints Director may conduct an investigation, or appoint an investigator to do this. The purpose of an investigation is to gather information related to the complaint. This may include interviewing anyone who has information about your conduct that relates to the complaint. It may also include gathering any items (for example, documents) that relate to the complaint, and visiting the place where the dental assistant practices.
If the investigator asks someone a question or asks them to produce an item that is relevant to the complaint, they must comply. This includes you, the Complainant, and anyone else who may have knowledge of or possess items related to the complaint.
It’s important to us to treat you and the Complainant fairly by gathering as much information as possible before deciding how to proceed. A thorough investigation may take some time to complete. When the investigation takes significant time, the Complaints Director will periodically update you and the Complainant.
After an investigation concludes, the Complaints Director will review the information and must decide to either:
- refer the matter to a hearing, or
- dismiss the complaint
The Complaints Director may dismiss a complaint if it’s trivial or vexatious, or if there is insufficient evidence of unprofessional conduct. When the Complaints Director dismisses a complaint, they must provide a written decision that includes their reasons.
Dismissing a complaint may happen after receiving a complaint or after an investigation occurs.
If the Complaints Director dismisses the complaint, the Complainant may request a review of that decision.
Review of Decision to Dismiss
When the Complaints Director dismisses a complaint, the Complainant may request a review of that decision. If this happens, the Hearings Director will arrange a Complaint Review Committee (CRC) to review the decision.
A CRC is made up of at least two dental assistants from a list appointed by our Council and at least two public members from a list appointed by government.
The CRC will review the material the Complaints Director used to make their decision to dismiss. The CRC may also accept and consider written and/or oral submissions from you and the Complainant about the dismissal.
After the CRC reviews all material and submissions, they must decide to:
- refer the matter to a hearing, or
- require that the matter be investigated further, or
- confirm the complaint is dismissed
Typically, when a matter is referred to a hearing, the Complaints Director and/or a CRC are of the opinion that the complaint merits a hearing before a Hearing Tribunal. The Tribunal’s role is to hear all evidence and decide.
Either the Complaints Director or a Complaint Review Committee may refer a matter to the Hearings Director for a hearing. When this happens, the Hearings Director will schedule a hearing, arrange a Hearing Tribunal to hear and decide, and provide administrative support for the hearing process.
A Tribunal is made up of at least two dental assistants from a list appointed by our Council and at least two public members from a list appointed by government.
A hearing is your opportunity to present your case to the Tribunal. You may call witnesses, present evidence to support your case and cross-examine any witnesses the Complaints Director calls. You may arrange for a lawyer to represent you at the hearing. Your legal fees associated with a hearing may be covered by your Professional Liability Insurance. You may want to check with your insurance provider to see if you are eligible to access coverage for legal defence fees.
At the hearing, the Complaints Director will be represented by a lawyer who will present the Complaints Director’s case to the Tribunal. They may call witnesses, present evidence to support the Complaints Director’s case and cross-examine any witnesses you call.
After you and the Complaints Director have presented your cases to the Tribunal, the Tribunal will consider the matter and decide if the complaint is or is not proven. If they decide that it is proven, they must also decide if it is or is not unprofessional conduct.
If the Tribunal decides that your conduct is proven to be unprofessional, you and the Complaints Director may make suggestions to the Tribunal about penalties. The Tribunal may order any combination of:
- issuing a caution or reprimand
- imposing conditions on your practice
- require that you prove you aren’t incapacitated
- treatment or counselling
- specific course of study, supervised practical experience or other demonstration of competence
- suspend your practice permit
- cancel your registration and practice permit
- waiving, reducing or repaying fees for professional services
- payment of all or part of the costs of the hearing and investigation
- payment of fine(s)
- any order that is appropriate for protecting the public
The Tribunal must provide a written decision that includes their reasons and the orders they make. The decision will be posted on our website.
If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the hearing, you may appeal the Tribunal’s decision. To do this, you must, within 30 days, submit a written request to the Hearings Director that includes your reasons for your appeal.
Your appeal will be heard by the College Council, or a panel of Council, and will be based on the record of the hearing and the Tribunal’s decision. After hearing the appeal, Council must make a decision to:
- quash, confirm or vary any of the Tribunal’s findings or orders,
- make any finding or order it deems appropriate,
- refer the matter back to the Tribunal to hear new evidence, or
- refer the matter to the Hearings Director to be heard by a new Tribunal
Council may also require that you pay all or part of the costs of the appeal.
If you are not satisfied with the outcome of your appeal to Council, you may, within 30 days, make an appeal to the Court of Appeal. Your appeal will be based on the record of your appeal to Council and Council’s decision. The record will be prepared at your expense. The Court of Appeal may:
- quash, confirm or vary any of the Council’s findings or orders
- make any finding or order it deems appropriate
- refer the matter back to the Council for further consideration
- if your appeal is successful, in whole or in part, direct that you be repaid all or part of the costs of preparing the record
The Court of Appeal may also direct either party to pay all or part of the other party’s costs for the appeal.