As a licensed barber, you've already invested a lot into your career. You've gone through hundreds of hours of education at a state-approved school, sat for exams, and likely spent years as an apprentice before becoming a full-fledged barber. Now, your professional license is the key to your livelihood. Unfortunately, all it may take is a single complaint or allegation of misconduct to throw your career into jeopardy by triggering an investigation by your state licensing board.
If you find yourself facing disciplinary action from the state board that oversees barbers, it's important to take the matter seriously. Joseph D. Lento is a professional license defense attorney who has assisted numerous professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York who are concerned about losing their licenses. The Lento Law Firm has provided the following critical information to help you understand the disciplinary process, and what you may be up against so you can prepare for what's ahead.
What types of complaints could jeopardize my barber license?
Barbers can face a variety of consequences for a wide range of offenses, but the majority of them have to do with either breaching state rules and procedures or the board's established code of ethics. Some of the most common examples include:
- Sanitation violations. Barbershops are required to follow strict sanitation protocols to protect both clients and barbers from the spread of disease. (This rule is especially monitored in the age of COVID.) This includes regular cleaning of floors and surfaces, using fresh razor blades, keeping utensils sanitized, etc. Many barbershops are fined, disciplined, or closed down over these types of violations.
- Allowing an unlicensed individual to work in the shop. If you allow an unlicensed individual to perform duties that only a licensed barber should do, this could be grounds for losing your license.
- Gross negligence or incompetency. Examples may include injuring clients with razor blades/scissors, careless or reckless behavior, etc.
- Fraudulent practices. This may occur if you lie about your qualifications, use false advertising, etc.
- Substance abuse. Many states have adopted rules that consider any use of illegal drugs, regardless of whether it occurs on or off duty, to be a violation. The same applies to excessive use of alcohol--especially if you are observed working while under the influence.
- Failure to keep your license current.
What agency in my state investigates barber license violations?
Every state has its own board or committee that regulates licensed barbers and administers disciplinary action as necessary. If you are licensed in New Jersey, you'll answer to the New Jersey State Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling; in Pennsylvania, it's the State Board of Barber Examiners; and in New York, your license is administered by the licensing division of the Department of State.
Am I guaranteed to lose my barber's license over a violation or complaint?
No. In fact, most minor violations are met with lesser penalties. The licensing board will consider the circumstances to determine how severe the violation is and whether it warrants revoking your barber's license. If they see fit, they may impose any of the following penalties as an alternative:
- Cease and desist/reprimand letter. For first offenses, you may only receive a letter noting the violation and warning of further action if the problem is not corrected.
- Fines. Fines for violations are quite common--but they can also be quite steep.
- License suspension. You might have your license suspended for a period of time.
- License restriction. As the board sees fit, you may be prevented from performing specific tasks and offering certain services.
Could my career be impacted negatively if the board gives me a lesser penalty?
Yes. Although lesser penalties can allow you to keep your professional license, most disciplinary actions are visible in public records. Any colleague, prospective employer, or client who is curious may look up your record and see whether you've had any disciplinary actions taken against you. This could affect their willingness to work with you. In many cases, the intervention of a professional license defense attorney can help you avoid this outcome.
What's the disciplinary process for barber licenses?
While every licensing board has its own policies and procedures regarding disciplinary actions, most follow a similar pattern. The following is an example of what you can expect:
- Complaint. Most disciplinary proceedings against barbers and barbershops start with either a failed state inspection or a formal complaint to the licensing board (e.g., by a client, coworker, etc.).
- Investigation. The board will typically open an investigation to determine whether the complaint is legitimate or not. If applicable, the board may ask for a response to the complaint in writing. They may also look at paperwork, talk to witnesses, etc.
- Consent decree. In some cases, a licensing board may offer to have you sign a consent decree as an alternative to a formal hearing--especially if the evidence against you is strong. In a consent decree, you'll willingly admit to wrongdoing and submit to whatever disciplinary action is recommended by the board.
- Hearing. For most minor offenses involving barbers, the board may simply hand down a reprimand or a fine without the need for a formal hearing. If the allegations are serious and warrant possible revoking of your license, however, they may ask you to attend a formal hearing. You're allowed to have legal representation for this hearing.
- Final determination. The board will render a final decision as to what the disciplinary action should be.
If there is insufficient evidence or mitigating circumstances regarding the complaint, the board may dismiss it at any point during the disciplinary process. An experienced license defense attorney can intervene at multiple points either to have the complaint dismissed or negotiate for lesser penalties.
Would it be in my best interests to agree to a consent decree?
It depends. If the board has gathered substantial evidence in support of the complaint, depending on the seriousness of the offense, it might be in your best interests to agree to a consent decree, especially if the terms of the decree allow you to keep your license. This would allow you to avoid the time and expense of going through a formal hearing. However, bear in mind that a consent decree is an admission of wrongdoing and will also appear on public records—so if you have strong evidence to refute the complaint, the consent decree might not be your best course of action. A professional license defense attorney can help you navigate this decision.
Do I have to cooperate with an investigation?
Yes. Your barber's license is a legal agreement between you and the state, and your cooperation with any investigation is assumed as a result. If you attempt to "stonewall" an investigation by failing to respond, it greatly increases the likelihood that the board will rule against you summarily, possibly stripping you of your license.
Why should I hire an attorney?
Barbers and other professionals often don't understand the consequences of a complaint against their profession or what happens if the board rules against them. The burden of proof is quite low for the licensing board to decide whether to discipline you—in fact, in most cases, they only need to be 51 percent certain that you committed a violation in order to invoke discipline. This puts you at a distinct disadvantage; it's not the same as "innocent until proven guilty."
You do have the right to represent yourself in front of the licensing board, but it's usually not a good idea because the board is actively looking for reasons to find you guilty. The reason is that the board is not there to protect you but to protect the public. Once you've had a complaint against you, the board becomes the people's advocate against you until it is shown that the complaint is not valid or until an appropriate disciplinary action is decided upon. Only a skilled license defense attorney understands these complexities. Thus, it is very much in your best interest to have legal representation in disciplinary proceedings. It greatly increases the chances that you'll get to keep your license and/or receive lighter penalties.
Is it true that hiring an attorney makes me appear guilty to the board?
No. You are not expected to be able to comprehend the legal and disciplinary procedures in this investigation, neither is the board going to assume that you are guilty simply because you hired an attorney to represent you. Hiring an attorney is a sign that you are serious about the matter. If you hire an attorney, the board will not assume that you are guilty.
Do I still need an attorney if it is a minor violation?
Although your complaint may appear minor, it is incorrect to assume that the board will not revoke your license for a minor offense. Additionally, even minor violations can still lead to disciplinary actions that could harm your career (or your pocketbook), even if your license isn't in danger. A good attorney can negotiate to minimize this type of damage and possibly even have minor violations dismissed.
Can a licensed attorney help me to reinstate my license if it was revoked already?
Yes, it's possible. Most states will have procedures that allow you to reapply for your barber's license after a certain time. In some cases, you may need to meet certain conditions, which may include:
- Submitting a formal request for reinstatement with a written explanation of why you want it.
- Paying any outstanding fines or fees.
- Submitting a list of all employment you've held while your license was revoked.
- Agreeing to any plan of action the board may impose as a condition for reinstatement.
A license attorney can help you coordinate your reinstatement application, monitor its progress, and negotiate with the board to get the best terms for reinstatement of your license.
How can hiring a license defense attorney increase my chances of a positive outcome?
Any attorney can legally represent you in professional licensing matters, but not every attorney has the experience needed to negotiate with licensing boards or navigate formal hearings. Hiring an attorney with specific experience in administrative law and professional licensing can make a big difference in helping you to achieve a positive outcome. An experienced attorney can perform any/all of these tasks:
- Review the complaint with you, so you fully understand the implications and what is at stake.
- Craft an effective defense strategy for responding to the complaint.
- Coordinate your defense by gathering evidence, bringing witnesses forward, etc.
- Assume the official role of your legal representative for all interactions with the board.
- Negotiate with the board at several points to get the complaint dismissed or the penalties reduced.
- Coordinate your reinstatement process if your license was suspended or revoked.
What's the first thing I should do if I'm notified of possible disciplinary action?
Hire a licensed professional defense attorney as soon as you can. Do not wait for the board to call a formal hearing before seeking legal counsel; the board will have already made its case against you by that time. Your chances of achieving a favorable outcome increase greatly by hiring an attorney early in the process, possibly even resulting in a dismissal of the complaint altogether.
Your career and livelihood could be at risk if your barber's license is jeopardized by a complaint or violation. Don't take even "minor" violations lightly, and don't take chances with your career by trying to represent yourself. Instead, hire an experienced license defense attorney to give yourself the best chance at a positive outcome. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced license defense attorney with a track record of success in front of state licensing boards. Take steps today to protect your license and your livelihood. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case and your options.