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11 May 2023

Professional standards

Employer’s duty to refer

We updated our Thresholds Guidance last year to help make it clearer when to raise a fitness to practise concern with us. A year on we want to remind employers what they need to refer to us.

Things to refer

Employers have a duty to refer registered workers to us in cases where:

  • you have suspended, dismissed or demoted a social service worker
  • a social service worker has resigned during a disciplinary investigation where you would have dismissed
  • you would refer the case to Disclosure Scotland
  • a worker has been charged or convicted of a criminal offence
  • you are concerned that the behaviour or actions of a worker raise serious concern about their fitness to practise.

Employers must tell us immediately if the:

  • behaviour is serious
  • worker is suspended
  • worker resigns and dismissal was the likely outcome
  • worker is charged with a criminal offence.

Other examples

There may be cases where an employer has taken action which is less than suspension, dismissal or demotion but the actions of the social service worker raise a serious concern about whether the worker is fit to practise. This can include the following.

  1. Misconduct which includes behaviour towards service users, colleagues or other people which is serious and is:
  • physically, sexually, emotionally or financially abusive
  • reckless or negligent and likely to cause harm
  • an improper relationship or breach of boundaries
  • dishonest or lacks integrity
  • discriminatory
  • a breach of confidentiality.
  1. Deficient professional practice which includes serious and/or persistent failure to carry out the duties of their role competently and meet the Codes of Practice.
  2. Health condition which is not being managed and puts people who use services at risk of harm.
  3. Behaviour which is fundamentally incompatible with registration such as serious criminal acts, or bringing the profession into disrepute.

Referring to other bodies

Employers also have a responsibility to report situations such as referrals to the Care Inspectorate and adult support and protection concerns. 

Employers have a legal responsibility to refer to Disclosure Scotland where an individual has:

  1. harmed a child or protected adult
  2. placed a child or protected adult at risk of harm
  3. displayed inappropriate behaviour involving pornography
  4. displayed inappropriate behaviour of a sexual nature involving a child or protected adult
  5. given inappropriate medical treatment to a child or protected adult.

Employers must make a referral to Disclosure Scotland if a person shows harmful behaviour and they’re:

  • dismissed as a result
  • would or might have been dismissed but left before they could be
  • permanently moved away from work with children or protected adults.

If they don’t refer these to Disclosure Scotland, employers can be prosecuted. You can read more information on the criteria in the Disclosure Scotland referral guidance.

If you refer a case to us and we think that you should refer to Disclosure Scotland, we’ll contact you to check you have. We cannot make the Disclosure Scotland referral on your behalf.

Further information

SSSC Employer Referral Guidance

SSSC Fitness to Practise Thresholds Policy (March 2022)

Employer advice line: or phone 0345 60 30 891, selecting the option for employer advice line.

Criteria for Disclosure Scotland Referrals

Disclosure Scotland Employer’s duty to refer video

Disclosure Scotland free training events

You can contact the Disclosure Scotland Customer Engagement Team for advice on specific cases: 

Contact information

Sandra Wilson
Communications Officer
Scottish Social Services Council