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Tips For NC Engineers to Use to Avoid Professional License Discipline

You spent money, time and effort at a college or university as well as towards passing your engineering or surveyors’ exam.  The purpose of this blog post is to inform you of common things that some engineers may do that put their hard-earned licenses at risk of suspension or revocation.  Everyone makes mistakes, and the North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors is not trying to scare you into a paralyzed fear of not doing any work, but you do need to be aware of things that some misinformed colleagues do that can result in suspension or revocation of your license.

FROM WHERE DOES THE NC BOARD OF EXAMINERS FOR ENGINEERS GET THEIR AUTHORITY?

Before we get into a deeper understanding of some of the more common errors that some engineers make, I wanted to touch on some of the laws that give the NC board of examiners for engineers and surveyors their authority.  North Carolina General Statute Chapter 89C are the laws that allow the Board to regulate engineers and surveyors.  Chapter 89C also sets forth the compensation of the board members, organization of the board, duties of the executive director as well as the procedure by which the board will conduct disciplinary action.  The board is given its power to implement rules of professional conduct from NCGS 89C-20 and those rules can be found under 21 NCAC 56 .0701 (North Carolina Administrative Code).

WHAT COMMON ERRORS SHOULD ENGINEERS LOOK TO AVOID?

Some of the more common errors below may seem obvious or just innocent mistakes but these mistakes have big consequences not only with the Board, but with the public.  While you may not think of it as an issue using your professional engineer seal or signature to finalize a set of plans, you should first ask yourself the following questions.  Did I have direct supervisory control in preparing the document I am are about to affix my seal or signature to?  Am I competent in the subject matter for which the plans are drawn?  If you cannot answer in the affirmative to either of those questions, then do not put your seal or signature on those plans.  Affixing your seal or signing plans when you have not had direct supervision or are competent in the subject matter of those plans is a violation of 21 NCAC 56 .0701(c)(3).

Another common error that some P.E.s make is more on the business side of the profession.  Say an experienced P.E. is looking to free up his time to work on his/her business and hires someone to do most of the day-to-day engineering work.  That’s not an issue unless that person does not possess a license through the NC Board of Examiners for engineers and surveyors and is engaged in the practice of engineering.  Allowing someone to essentially use your professional license like that violates 21 NCAC 56 .0701 (g)(1) and is subject to the type of discipline that is discussed in detail below.

AM I QUALIFIED IN A SPECIFIC TECHNICAL ENGINEERING FIELD?

Before a licensed engineer undertakes a job, he/she needs to be sure that he/she is competent in the engineering services that he/she is offering.  Qualification in a specific technical field can be acquire by an engineer through education or experience in said specific technical field.  Bottom line is if you have specific education and/or experience in engine design and construction, you should not undertake to perform structural engineering, unless you also have specific education or experience in that technical field as well.

CAN A LICENSED ENGINEER BE AN EXPERT WITNESS?

At times, engineers will have the opportunity to issue public statements and/or serve as an expert witness in a court proceeding, tribunal or similar proceeding.  The main thing to remember is that engineers are required by ethics rule 21 NCAB 56.0701 to be “objective and truthful in all professional reports, statements or testimony” and “express an opinion only when it is founded upon adequate knowledge of the facts in issue, upon a background of technical competent in the subject matter, and upon honest conviction of the accuracy and propriety of the licensee’s testimony”.  Do not act as an expert about something for which you are lacking in knowledge or otherwise do not have the experience and education to properly educate others.

WHAT IF YOU ARE ACCUSED OF VIOLATING AN ETHICS RULE PUT FORTH BY THE NORTH CAROLINA BOARD OF EXAMINERS FOR ENGINEERS AND SURVEYORS?

A licensed engineer that is accused of violating an ethics rule of the NC Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors will receive written notice from the Board as to the allegations against the licensee.  The written notice sent by the Board is to contain a statement that the Board will take certain action due to evidence the Board has obtained which shows the license holder has engaged in behavior that is a violation of one or more ethical rules enacted by the NC Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors. 

The licensee will have twenty (20) days after service of said notice to send the Board a written request for a hearing or settlement conference.  Licensee’s notice to the Board must be by certified mail.  Failure of a licensee to give the Board notice of his/her request for a hearing or settlement conference within twenty (20) days of service of the Board’s letter will result in the Board taking action against the licensee’s license.  Decisions by the Board must be made within ninety (90) days after the hearing and will be sent to the licensee via certified mail or in person.

WHAT PENALTIES CAN THE BOARD IMPOSE AGAINST A LICENSED ENGINEER THAT IS FOUND TO BE IN VIOLATION OF A RULE OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT?

Disciplinary action available to the Board is found under North Carolina General Statute section §89C-21 and can involve a reprimand of a license, suspension of a license, refusal to renew a license, refusal to reinstate a license, revocation of a license and/or the imposition of a civil penalty not to exceed $5,000 against an engineer. 

The ethical obligations I have touched on today are not the only ethics rules enacted by the NC Board of Examiner for Engineers and Surveyors.  I have merely listed and explained some ethics rules that may be violated more often than others.  All rules of professional conduct as well as potential disciplinary action can be found under NCGS section §89C-20/§89C-21 and 21 NCAC 56 .0701.  If you have any questions regarding the rules of professional conduct for licensed engineers in North Carolina, you should contact the NC Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors.

About the Author

Nicholas ‘Nick’ Dowgul is an attorney and owner of North State Law in Cary, North Carolina.  Nick is the son of a professional engineer in Florida who has over 40 years’ experience.  Since 2008 Nick has been licensed to practice law.  His firm focuses on professional license defense.  This information is meant to be strictly informative and is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship or be construed as legal advice.

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