I stepped into the Bureau of Occupational Licensing in Salt Lake City with a smile on my face. It wouldn’t stay there long.
“Hi, I’m here to renew my social work license. It looks like it expired a few days ago and I didn’t realize it.”
The woman stepped up to the counter, seemingly frustrated, and I wondered if she was having a bad day. “Did you bring the form, or will I need to print that out for you?”
“If you could print it out, that would be great, thanks.”
Several seconds went by while she printed out the form and handed it to me. Before I had taken the paper, she was already talking. “Sir, I’m going to need you to step away from the counter while you fill that out. Now, please.”
I looked surprised. “Um, of course. Give me a chance.”
A few minutes later, I returned the renewal form to the next counter over. Another woman, disinterested and in a rush, looked it over. “That’ll be $115 dollars. $95 plus a $20 late fee.”
“Wait, because I’m a couple of days late, you mark the price up by 25 per cent?”
“Well, sir, if you had been responsible and renewed it on time, then there wouldn’t be a late fee. There is nothing I can do about it.” She spoke sternly, like a parent scolding a child, and I immediately swallowed my frustration. Over a few seconds of silence, she looked up. “Didn’t you receive your renewal notification?”
“I didn’t. I usually get a letter or Email but this time I didn’t see anything.”
“Well, you should have checked your spam folders and made sure your address was correct. This wasn’t our fault.”
“I never said it was.” She printed out the credit card receipt and had me sign it. “Thank you,” I said, trying a smile. “While the license renewal processes over the next few days, can I get a temporary license form that shows that I have renewed?”
“No, that wouldn’t be possible.”
“Um, what about a letter that says I have paid? I have a few job contracts that will require that verification letter in order for me to maintain the business.”
“I told you it wasn’t possible. You are welcome to plead your case with the social work board up on the fourth floor, but I don’t think it will help.”
I nodded, said thank you again, and walked to the elevator, went to the fourth floor, went into the appropriate office, and asked for a member of the social work board. After I waited several minutes, a woman came out of the door with an air about her that left me feeling like I had interrupted something.
“Hi, I don’t know your name, can I help you?” She stayed standing over me.
“I’m Chad. I just paid downstairs to get my social work license renewed and I would like to get verification for some of my business contracts. A letter of verification, or a temporary license perhaps.”
She sighed. “That isn’t something I can help with. It was your responsibility to renew on time. It will take them 24 hours to process the payment downstairs in accounting, and then I can begin the renewal process which could take 7-14 days.”
I grimaced, feeling scolded again. “Okay, is there a way for us to go downstairs and get the payment so you could process now? If so, that would be amazing.”
“I already told you I can’t do that. It’s against regulation. If you had renewed online, it would have given you a verification and temporary license immediately. But you chose to come down in person, now there is nothing I could do.”
“No one explained that to me. Could we go back downstairs and cancel the credit card payment so that I can go renew online instead? I could do that right now. I know this is my fault, but I’ve been licensed for 15 years. This has never happened.”
She shifted her wait to one leg, looking down at me. “If you’ve been at this for 15 years, then you should know by now to keep your license renewed on time.” The woman told me to hang on and went in the back for a time to ask some questions, then told me to wait again while she went downstairs. She came back a few minutes later. “Well, I checked for you, but my hands are tied. Like I said, the payment has to process and then we will send it out in a week.”
I breathed silently for a moment, then smiled. “I’m going to lose business unless I can provide verification today. Is there any sort of documentation you could help me with?”
“I already said no.” Her feet were firmly planted.
Very frustrated now, I looked up. “If I had known about the Internet option, or if I had received the verifications, I would have renewed. The date slipped by me. In the future, though, when someone like me comes in for help, a little bit of understanding and empathy would go a very long way. I am not blaming you or your Department for something that is my fault, but being caught up in your agency’s red tape and losing business because of it is very frustrating.” My voice was calm and even.
She placed her hands on her hips and kept her voice equally calm. “I am sorry if I came across that way. It is just that this is the tenth complaint like this I have had today.”
“If I could provide feedback then, not for you but for the agency, if ten people in one morning are complaining about the same thing, it might be a good idea to revisit some of the agency policies.”
She snapped back. “And if you would learn to renew your license after your claimed 15 years in the business we wouldn’t have a problem.”
I stood up and grabbed my bag, calmly and angrily at once. “I’m going to step away now because I’m getting frustrated. But I am a competent professional, and I would expect to be treated as such by the licensing board of my profession.”
I walked out the door and got on the elevator, my neck and head hot, and contemplated how I would suddenly have a free evening, unable to work on various projects until a bureaucratic agency full of unhappy employees decided to process my paperwork.
“I’d rather be at the DMV,” I muttered as I exited.