On Ethics: You Be The Judge
Would You Punish This Good Deed?
What Do You Think?
Was it unethical for Albright to offer her opinion without being licensed in State Y?
Was it unethical for Carlson to file a complaint with the state engineering licensure board, claiming that Albright was engaged in the unlicensed practice of engineering?
What the Board of Ethical Review Said
The ethical obligations to comply with state licensing laws and regulations, as well as to practice competently are fundamental to the licensed practice of engineering.
In BER Case 93-2, a client contacted an engineer to design a project that would be constructed in a state in which the engineer was not licensed. In deciding that the engineer unethically implied that he was licensed in the state and unethically designed a project for construction without first obtaining a temporary permit from the state licensing board and other appropriate permits, the Board noted that there was no indication that the engineer ever informed his client that he was not licensed in the state. The Board believed the engineer’s failure to notify the client violated the Code of Ethics. Moreover, it appeared to the Board that the engineer may have misrepresented himself as a PE in the state, which may have violated the law. Since the client incurred additional expenses and delay in construction, the engineer’s actions compromised and jeopardized the client’s interests, thus violating the Code.
More recently, in BER Case 11-3, a PE performed engineering services on a project designed by a Canadian firm. The Canadian firm did not sign and seal the work and was not registered in the state where the work was performed. Later, the PE notified the state licensing board about the Canadian firm’s unlicensed practice.
The Board determined that while Engineer A had an ethical obligation to take action regarding the Canadian firm’s apparent violation of the state engineering licensure requirements, under the circumstances, Engineer A should have first advised the Canadian firm of the action Engineer A planned to take. Engineer A also should have provided an explanation for taking the action (e.g., the obligation to report under the state engineering licensing law or the Code of Ethics) and encouraged the firm to self-report.
In the present case, while the Board recognizes that Albright had an obligation to be licensed in State Y, it is the Board’s view that Carlson’s reporting of her to the State Y engineering licensure board may have been motivated more out of commercial pressures than out of concern over protecting the public health and safety. As with BER Case 11-3, in the Board’s opinion, a better course of action would have been for Carlson to have first advised Albright of the actions he planned to take and provided an explanation for taking them and encouraged Albright to self-report.
Finally, without expressing an opinion regarding the legality of Albright misrepresenting herself as a PE in State Y, the Board believes that one possible solution might have been for Albright to explore the option of obtaining a temporary permit from the State Y licensing board should that option exist.
It was not unethical for Albright to offer her opinion without being licensed in state Y because of the potentially serious health and safety issues. However, she should have advised Carlson of her observations.
It was not unethical for Carlson to file a complaint with the state board claiming that Albright was engaged in the unlicensed practice of engineering in State Y. Carlson should have included in his complaint to the licensing board a statement to the effect that the advice given by Albright was helpful in protecting the safety, health, and welfare of the public.
For more information, see BER Case No. 14-12.