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Frequently Asked Questions: Certificates of Authorization (C of A)

In Ontario, professional engineers or firms who provide engineering services directly to the public must have a Certificate of Authorization (C of A). Individuals and firms holding a C of A from PEO must adhere to the professional liability insurance regulations required by the Professional Engineers Act.

Section 12(2) of the Professional Engineers Act states:

"No person shall offer to the public or engage in the business of providing to the public services that are within the practice of professional engineering except under and in accordance with a certificate of authorization."

Other Frequently Asked Questions

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Are you practising professional engineering?
Are you providing professional engineering services to the public?
What are the requirements for a C of A?
What are the consequences of offering engineering services without a C of A?
How do I obtain a C of A?
Do I need professional liability insurance?
I am a C of A holder. The Act gives me the option to forego insurance as long as I disclose to my clients that I have none. Does this eliminate my risk of being sued?
Does PEO have some type of affinity agreement for reduced premiums with insurance companies providing professional liability insurance?
I'd like to go into business on my own. What do I need to do?
Why do I need a C of A if I already have my P.Eng. licence?
I provide engineering services to other companies; not to the public? Do I need a C of A?
Why do I need a C of A if I am not sealing drawings?
There is a large scale non-compliance with the Act in Ontario. Why should I get a C of A when I know my competitors don't have one and PEO is not enforcing the Act?
I'm listed on my employer's C of A. What should I do if I leave that firm?
If I am the only P.Eng. listed on a firm's C of A, what happens when I resign?
I'm retired and I've been asked to work occasionally for my former employer. Do I need a C of A?
I offer my engineering expertise as a volunteer. If I receive no payment for these services, why do I need a C of A?
I've been in business for 20 year and have a storeroom full of drawings, correspondence and specifications. How long do I have to keep my project files? What kind of files should I keep?


 Are you practising professional engineering?

The practice of professional engineering is defined in section 1 of the Professional Engineers Act and comprises three tests. Professional engineering is:

  1. any act of designing, composing, evaluating, advising, reporting, directing or supervising, or the managing of any of these acts;
  2. wherein the safeguarding of life, health, property, economic interests, the public welfare or the environment is concerned, and
  3. that requires the application of engineering principles.

If what you do meets all three tests, you are practising professional engineering and must be licensed by the association.

Are you providing professional engineering services to the public?

An examination of your practice will help you determine whether you are offering or providing engineering services to the public. The public is usually legally defined as any person or entity with whom you have an arm's length relationship. For example:

  • If you "hang out your shingle"; advertise and promote yourself - either personally or through a legal entity such as a company or partnership - as offering professional engineering services, a C of A is required.
  • If you provide professional engineering services to the public through the sale of a product that is custom-designed or an original (as opposed to an off-the-shelf product), a C of A is required.
  • If you work for others, but offer professional engineering services directly to the public on a part-time, moonlighting, or volunteer basis, you must hold a C of A. Under these circumstances, you should also, as a matter of professional courtesy, inform your employer that you are undertaking such work, in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest. In addition, you should provide your client with a written statement of the nature of your status as an employee and the attendant limitations on your services to the client.

In short, if you are practising professional engineering and engaging in the business of offering or providing those services to anyone but yourself or your employer, you require a C of A. In recent years, firms have increasingly secured engineering staff through a contract of service. But you may still be an employee for the purposes of licensure and thus not require a C of A if:

  • you work exclusively for a particular firm;
  • your employment contract addresses non-disclosure, ability to control work hours and time off, expectations related to performance, notice, termination and remuneration;
  • your expenses are reimbursed
  • you are paid a salary or wage;
  • you are provided an office and equipment on business premises;
  • have set work hours;
  • you are provided benefits, e.g. vacation pay;
  • your work is covered under the firm's professional liability insurance policy.

However, if the firm requiring your engineering expertise offers a contract for service, a Certificate of Authorization will likely be required. You are likely working under a contract for service and would thus require a C of A if:

  • your contract indicates an independent contract or relationship, or the firm purchases your time from an agency;
  • you are free to provide your business services to more than one firm;
  • you invoice the business for your time;
  • you are not paid if services are not performed;
  • you are not covered by the firm's professional liability insurance;
  • your hours of work are not restricted;
  • you receive no vacation pay or bonuses.

What are the requirements for a C of A?

Section 47(1) of the Regulation 941 made under the Professional Engineers Act requires that an applicant for a C of A designate a PEO licence holder who is an employee or partner in the firm to assume professional responsibility for the services provided. Generally, C of A holders are required to carry professional liability insurance as laid out in the regulations under the Professional Engineers Act. In the absence of insurance, they are required to disclose to each and every client that they do not hold liability insurance, and obtain the client's written acknowledgement of this disclosure.

What are the consequences of offering engineering services without a C of A?

If you operate without a C of A, you are contravening the Professional Engineers Act. Such contravention may result in PEO enforcing the provisions of Section 40 of the Act against you, which can lead to fines of up to $25,000 for a first offence and up to $50,000 for any subsequent offence. In addition, a complaint may be pursued through the association's discipline process against licensed members who operate without a C of A (see Section 72(g) of Regulation 941). PEO has guidelines and publications dealing with areas of interest to C of A holders.

How do I obtain a C of A?

The initial application fee for a Certificate of Authorization is $745.80 (application $372.90 + annual fee $372.90). Upon approval the Certificate of Authorization is renewable annually for $372.90.

If you have any questions about C of A requirements or would like an application form, please contact us.

Do I need professional liability insurance?

The Professional Engineers Act requires a Certificate of Authorization (C of A) holder to either have professional liability insurance or agree to compulsory disclosure. This is an undertaking to provide each client with a letter stating that the holder does not have insurance. The Act does provide an exemption for engineering businesses that provide engineering services that may involve pollution, nuclear, aviation or shipping hazards. However these firms must have insurance or provide compulsory disclosure for services provided in other than these named areas of practice. Normally employee engineers working for Certificate of Authorization holders that have professional liability insurance are covered by the employer's policy. Engineers working for these firms, especially if they are named on the C of A as taking responsibility for the engineering activities, should review their exposure to liability with the firm’s insurer. If you work for a Certificate of Authorization holding firm that does not have professional liability coverage you should investigate how a lawsuit against the firm might affect you. Other employee engineers should check with their employer's insurance company to see if they are covered for professional negligence or errors and omissions.

I am a Certificate of Authorization holder. The Professional Engineers Act gives me the option to forego insurance as long as I disclose to my clients that I have none. Does this eliminate my risk of being sued?

No.

Does PEO have some type of affinity agreement for reduced premiums with insurance companies providing professional liability insurance?

PEO does not have any arrangement with insurance companies for these products. Visit Group Benefits for information about affinity programs offered through Engineers Canada and the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers.

I’d like to go into business on my own. What do I need to do?

Any entity (sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation) that offers or provides professional engineering services to the public must have a Certificate of Authorization. This requirement is stipulated in Section 12(2) of the Professional Engineers Act.

Why do I need a Certificate of Authorization if I already have my P.Eng. licence?

Section 12 (2) of the Professional Engineers Act stipulates that every entity (sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation) that offers or provides professional engineering services to the public requires a Certificate of Authorization. While the licence entitles an individual to practice as a professional engineer, the Certificate is required to provide PEO with a means for governing the activities of entities. A sole proprietorship is a business entity and is distinct from the individual practitioner.

I provide engineering services to other companies; not to the public? Do I need a Certificate of Authorization?

"Public" does not mean public institutions or society in general; it means an entity (business, individual, government, charity) that is at an "arm's-length" relationship to the engineer and could rightly be called a client. If an employer utilizes engineers to provide engineering services within the employer's domain only, then the employer does not need a Certificate of Authorization. If however, the employer (government, manufacturer, consulting firm or engineer working as a sole proprietor) provides engineering services outside the employer's domain (i.e. to the public) then the employer requires a C of A.

Why do I need a Certificate of Authorization if I am not sealing drawings?

The Professional Engineers Act stipulates that an entity requires a Certificate of Authorization if it is providing engineering services to the public. These services may not necessarily involve the production of drawings. Professional engineers may provide advice about technology, review construction, perform health and safety audits, give opinions about mineral properties, or provide expert testimony. Though none of these activities involve the preparation of drawings, each is an act of providing engineering services and, therefore, the entity requires a Certificate of Authorization. However, if you provide engineering services you should ask yourself this question: why are you not sealing documents that you provide to a client or other external body? Section 53 of the Professional Engineers Act governs the requirement for sealing of documents. You are required to seal all drawings and other documents provided as part of engineering services done for an external entity, regardless of whether or not there is other legislation (such as the Building Code Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act, or Regulation for Industrial Facilities) that specifically requires a engineer's seal. In order words, any document of an engineering nature prepared for a client or as part of the work done for a client (this includes drawings for custom equipment) must be sealed.

There is large scale non-compliance with the Act in Ontario. Why should I get a Certificate of Authorization when I know my competitors don't have one and PEO is not enforcing the Act?

PEO has an active enforcement policy that investigates and prosecutes all reported violations of the Professional Engineers Act. If your competition is providing engineering services to the public but does not have a Certificate of Authorization then that entity is in violation of the Act. Notify PEO's Enforcement department if you encounter this situation.

I'm listed on my employer's Certificate of Authorization. What should I do if I leave that firm?

Notify PEO in writing immediately about your change of employment status.

If I am the only P.Eng. listed on a firm's Certificate of Authorization, what happens when I resign?

The Certificate of Authorization will be suspended for a period of 90 days at which time if no suitable P.Eng. has been found by the firm to replace you, the Certificate will be revoked.

I'm retired but I've been asked to work occasionally for my former employer. Do I need a Certificate of Authorization?

This depends on whether you plan to work as an independent contractor or as a contract employee. Both arrangements have benefits for you and your employer but there are significant differences in taxation, compensation and professional responsibility. You should discuss with your former employer which arrangement to use prior to coming to an agreement on how you will provide services. PEO has published guidelines on both. Since an independent contractor is a sole proprietorship you will require a Certificate of Authorization if you decide to make this arrangement. PEO reminds professional engineers registered as retired and are paying reduced fees that they are not entitled to practice professional engineering either for payment or as a volunteer.

I offer my engineering expertise as a volunteer. If I receive no payment for these services, why do I need a Certificate of Authorization?

The Professional Engineers Act makes no distinction between providing professional engineering services for a fee or on a volunteer basis. The individual or volunteer organization providing professional engineering services will need a Certificate of Authorization. You should also remember that providing services as a volunteer does not make one immune to liability. Since either the client or a third party affected by the work can bring a lawsuit against the engineer or the volunteer organization, volunteers are urged to investigate their need for professional liability insurance.

I’ve been in business for 20 years and have a storeroom full of drawings, correspondence and specifications. How long do I have to keep my project files? What kind of files should I keep?

There is no legal requirement stipulating how long documents must be retained. The documents belong to the person who created them and that person is at liberty to do with them as s/he sees fit. The most pressing reason for keeping documents is the possibility of future legal action. At present there is essentially no period of limitation so it is possible that someone can bring legal action against an engineer many years after a project is completed. Since document retention is really a matter of legal protection, you should discuss the matter with your insurance provider.