Employment & Labour

Protect your reputation when facing misconduct charges: Ovsyannikov

By Carrie Brunet Duncan, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor

Investigations into professional misconduct can be resolved quickly, and often without charges when the individual seeks legal counsel at the earliest possible opportunity, says Vaughan employment lawyer Dennis Ovsyannikov.

“Generally, before any charges are laid, there is an investigation,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

A letter from a regulatory body identifying the concerns is when individuals should take immediate notice, says Ovsyannikov, associate with Zeilikman Law.

Delays in responding to the letter could result in missed deadlines and early opportunities to resolve issues before charges are brought forward, Ovsyannikov says. Lawyers who handle professional misconduct charges are familiar with the different regulatory bodies and their processes, making it easier for them to address the challenges presented, he adds.

Investigations can result from a complaint from the public, clients or the regulatory body itself if the organization thinks that it is in the best interest of society, Ovsyannikov says, adding that in some instances, the impact can be swift and immediate.

“Real estate agents or brokers sometimes can have their licences immediately revoked by the Real Estate Council of Ontario and only have 15 days to challenge it,” he says. “There is often a quick turnaround on deadlines.”

A common mistake by individuals facing these charges is to ignore them, or, if they are covered by a collective agreement, to assume that their union will lead their defence for professional misconduct, Ovsyannikov says.

“The union represents the individual employees vis-a-vis their employer,” he says. And while there may be exceptions to the rule, Ovsyannikov says that “the union is not responsible for representing an individual against a professional organization. That is usually outside the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.”

If the issue can’t be resolved before charges are brought forward, an initial pre-hearing or reconciliation-type meeting could be the next best opportunity to resolve the issues, Ovsyannikov says. Having a lawyer review the case and prepare a file before this meeting will ensure that the individual enters the meeting prepared, he says.

“I would recommend preparing a summary of events as soon as possible, while their memory is still fresh,” Ovsyannikov says.

That overview will allow individuals to identify key pieces needed in their case files, such as witnesses who may need to be called, documents that could support their position, and text messages, emails or other communications that may need verifying, he says.

“Too often, people miss that opportunity,” Ovsyannikov says. “Then it is too late to prepare effectively. It really puts them at a disadvantage.

“I have had clients contact me late in the proceedings, and it is clear significant opportunities have been lost,” he says. “If matters are resolved early, then charges are no longer required.”

It can be a costly mistake, jeopardizing their careers and causing reputational damage, Ovsyannikov says.

“Especially when an individual’s licence and livelihood could be on the line, an investment into competent representation can really pay off,” he says.

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