Law: Rules regulating how Professional Engineers exercise “Responsible charge” have changed

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By A. Bradley Eben
Special to North Carolina Construction News

The North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors has amended its Rules of Professional Conduct. These rules, meant to “safeguard the life, health, property and welfare of the public and to establish and maintain a high standard of integrity, skills, and practice in the professions of engineering and land surveying,” are binding upon every individual and business entity holding a North Carolina certificate of licensure as a Professional Engineer or Professional Land Surveyor. The amendment to 21 NCAC 56.0701 expands a licensee’s exercise of responsible charge. The rule changed and became effective on May 1, 2024.

Prior to the amendment, a licensee could only exercise “responsible charge” over an employee. The rule prohibited licensees from affixing their “signature or seal to any engineering or land surveying plan or document dealing with subject matter for which the licensee lacks competence by virtue of education or experience, nor to any such plan or document not prepared under the licensee’s direct supervisory control.” The rule further stated that “[d]irect supervisory control (responsible charge) requires a licensee or employee to carry out all client contacts, provide internal and external financial control, oversee employee training, and exercise control and supervision of overall job requirements to include research, planning, design, field supervision and work product review.”

The amendment removes the word “employee” and provides greater instruction on how a licensee exercises responsible charge. A licensee may now exercise responsible charge over asubcontractor or other non-employee of the licensee in providing professional services. Along with expanding the scope of responsible charge to non-employees, the Board more clearly defined “responsible charge.” The licensee must possess full professional knowledge of and control over the work and shall:

  • Have and exercise the authority to review and change, reject or approve both the work in progress and the final work product, through examination, evaluation, communication and direction throughout the development of the work;
  • Be personally aware of the scope of the work, its needs, parameters, limitations and special requirements;
  • Be capable of answering questions relevant to the surveying or engineering decisions made as part of services provided, in sufficient detail to demonstrate knowledge of the proficiency in the work; and
  • Accept full responsibility for the work.

With regard to accepting full responsibility for the work, the amended rule states that the licensee has the burden for demonstrating acceptance of responsibility which includes maintaining records, calculations, drawings, surveys, specifications, and other documents associated with the work.

In an article written by Board Counsel, S. Wesley Tripp, III, which is available on the Board’s website (https://www.ncbels.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/05/Responsible-Charge-Rule-Amendment-Article.pdf), Mr. Tripp cautions that “[i]t may appear that this rule change gives the licensee more flexibility in who the licensee uses to develop their work product; however, the

licensee’s responsibilities have increased. A licensee can no longer merely satisfy responsible charge just by hiring employees and not providing adequate supervision. Additionally, a licensee must keep records showing how the licensee fulfilled their responsible charge duties.”

The changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct signify a trend of increased oversight over licensed professionals in North Carolina. Those changes may be duplicated by other professional licensing boards in the near future

Brad EvansBrad Eben is a native of Illinois and now lives in Raleigh. He joined Conner Gwyn Schenck as an associate attorney after working for three years as an associate in Chicago law firms. After moving to North Carolina in 2020, Brad took and passed the North Carolina Bar exam. He also volunteered with Pisgah Legal Services in Asheville, providing pro bono legal advice. While in law school at the University of Michigan, Brad participated in the Transactional Law Clinic and moot court competitions. Brad majored in International Relations at Georgetown University and is fluent in Spanish. Brad’s practice focuses on litigation and arbitration of construction claims and disputes, drafting and reviewing contracts, and occupational licensing.

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