Losing your professional license can be a career-ending event. It can mean the end of your livelihood and the loss of years of hard work. Unfortunately, in many cases, all it may take is one complaint or allegation of misconduct to trigger an investigation. If you are a licensed cosmetologist facing possible disciplinary action, you may be overwhelmed with uncertainty as to what's ahead. It is important to know what could lead to the revocation or suspension of your license and what to do if you find yourself in a situation where your license is jeopardized.
One of the most important ways to safeguard your career is to hire an experienced professional license defense attorney at the first sign of trouble. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped numerous professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York who are facing possible board action. The following are some of the critical points provided by the Lento Law Firm to assist you in preparing for what lies ahead during the disciplinary procedure.
Which state agency would investigate violations of my cosmetologist's license?
The state licensing board that issued your cosmetologist's license is the same board that will investigate allegations of wrongdoing and issue disciplinary action for violations. 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 Cosmetology; and in New York, your license is administered by the licensing division of the Department of State.
What are some of the most common reasons for a cosmetologist to lose their license?
There are many consequences that cosmetologists could face for various offenses. However, most of them involve either violating state rules or the board's code of ethics. The most common examples are:
- Sanitation violations. To protect clients from infectious diseases, salons are required to follow strict sanitation protocols, including regular cleaning of floors and surfaces, sanitizing utensils, etc. These are among the most common violations that elicit disciplinary action and repeat offenses could result in losing your license.
- Unlicensed employees working in your salon. If you permit unlicensed people to perform functions that require a license, this could lead to you losing your license.
- Gross negligence/incompetency. Performing your duties in a way that causes harm to patients can lead to loss of license.
- Fraudulent activities. This includes anything from overbilling clients to false advertising.
- Addiction/substance abuse problems. If you have a drug or alcohol problem, the board may require you to undergo treatment as a condition for keeping your license. If you fail to comply, your license could be revoked.
- Failing to renew your license. This is tantamount to performing cosmetology without a license.
Will I automatically lose my cosmetology license over a complaint or violation?
No. Loss of license is the worst-case scenario, and while no violation should be treated lightly, the board is more likely to impose lesser penalties on minor offenses or first-time violations. The board will review the circumstances and decide if the violation warrants the loss of your cosmetologist's license. Examples of lesser penalties may include:
- Cease and desist/reprimand letter. First-time violations are often sent a warning letter apprising them of the violation and threatening fines for future violations.
- Fines. While not as severe as losing one's license, the fines for violations can be quite high.
- License suspension. Your license might be suspended for a time.
- License restriction. The board may decide to prohibit you from offering services or performing certain tasks.
Can my career still be affected if I was given a lower penalty by the board?
Yes. Although you may be able to retain your professional license with lesser penalties, the majority of disciplinary actions are a matter of public record. A prospective employer, client, or colleague may be interested in your records to see if you have been subject to any disciplinary actions. This could impact their willingness to work with you.
I've been notified of a complaint against my license. What does the disciplinary process look like?
The disciplinary process for cosmetologists may look different from state to state, depending on how their oversight is structured. However, most professional license disciplinary processes include at least some of the following steps:
- Complaint. The majority of disciplinary proceedings against cosmetologists begin with either a failed state inspection or a formal complaint submitted to a licensing board (e.g., by a client, coworker, etc.).
- Investigation. The board will usually open an investigation to determine if the complaint is valid. The board might ask you to respond to the complaint in writing if applicable. They might also examine paperwork and speak to witnesses.
- Consent decree. A licensing board might offer to have you sign a consent decree in lieu of a formal hearing, especially if they find significant evidence to support the complaint or violation. A consent decree is a voluntary admission of wrongdoing in which you agree to submit to any disciplinary action recommended by the board.
- Hearing. For minor violations (such as sanitation violations), the board may simply reprimand or fine you without holding a hearing. If you have serious allegations against you, however, they may request that you attend a formal hearing, to which you may bring an attorney.
- Final determination. After the formal hearing, the board will make a final determination as to what disciplinary action is appropriate.
The board has the power to dismiss a complaint at any stage of the disciplinary process if they feel there is not enough evidence or if there are other mitigating circumstances. An experienced license defense lawyer can intervene at multiple points in the process to attempt to get the complaint dismissed or to negotiate for lighter penalties.
Should I sign a consent decree if it is offered?
We don't recommend signing any consent decree without having an attorney review it with you first. If the evidence against you is solid and disciplinary action is likely, a consent decree can help you avoid having to go through a formal hearing and the associated costs--and your cooperation may also improve your chances for eventual reinstatement. However, a consent decree is also an admission of wrongdoing, and it will show up in public records... so if you can effectively disprove the allegations, a consent decree might not be in your best interests. An experienced license defense attorney can better advise you on what is best in your situation.
Am I required to cooperate with an investigation?
Yes. Your license as a cosmetologist is a legal contract between you and the state in which you agree to be accountable to the state's standards of conduct--and that includes cooperating in any investigation into your license. If you attempt to avoid or "stonewall" an inquiry by failing to reply, it increases the chances that the board will rule against you and take away your license.
Why do I need to hire an attorney?
Many cosmetologists and other professionals don't know how to navigate the disciplinary process effectively. Unlike criminal trials, you are not presumed innocent until proven guilty in these cases. The licensing board has broad authority and a low burden of proof, which can put you at a disadvantage if you're accused of wrongdoing.
Although you have the right to appear on your own behalf before the licensing board, it is usually not a good idea. The board is not there to protect you but to protect the public against bad actors--and if you're alleged to have violated the public trust in some way, the board is actively looking for evidence to support that claim. Having an attorney with experience in professional license defense is your best bet to "level the playing field" and make sure your rights are protected. In addition, a good attorney can navigate this complex process to help you obtain a more favorable outcome--greatly reducing the chances that you will lose your cosmetology license.
Doesn't hiring an attorney make me appear guilty to the board?
No, it doesn't. In fact, it's often the smartest move to make--and one that is likely to result in a better outcome overall. Licensing boards are used to dealing with lawyers, and they don't assume your guilt just because you hire one. On the contrary, it lets them know you take the allegations seriously--as you should.
My violation or offense is minor. Do I still need an attorney?
Your complaint may seem minor, but it is wrong to assume that the board won't revoke your license because of a minor offense. Even if it's not enough to jeopardize your license, even minor violations could still result in disciplinary actions that could result in fines and cause damage to your public reputation. An experienced attorney can often work to get minor violations dismissed, so they don't appear as disciplinary actions on your public record.
Can a license defense attorney help me get my license back if it has been revoked?
Yes, in certain situations. Many states have procedures that allow you to reapply for a cosmetologist's license after a period of time. Getting reinstated may come with certain conditions, which may include some or all of the following:
- Sending a formal request to be reinstated with a written explanation as to why.
- Paying any outstanding fees or fines.
- Sending a list of all jobs you held while your license was inactive.
- Agreeing to any action plan the board may put in place as a condition for restoring your license (for example, a treatment program).
A license defense attorney can assist you in coordinating your reinstatement application, monitoring its progress, and negotiating with the board to obtain the best terms for your reinstatement.
How does hiring an attorney improve my chances of saving my license?
While any attorney can legally represent you in professional licensure matters, not all attorneys have the necessary experience to negotiate with licensing boards and navigate formal hearings. An attorney who has specific experience with professional licensing and administrative law can help you achieve a positive result. A good attorney can:
- Go over the complaint with you to make sure you understand what is at stake.
- Create a strong defense strategy to respond to the complaint.
- Gather evidence and witnesses to bolster your case.
- Act as your legal representative in all interactions and correspondence with the licensing board.
- Negotiate with the board to have the complaint dismissed or penalties reduced.
- If your license has been suspended or revoked, coordinate your reinstatement process.
I've been notified that my cosmetology license may be subject to disciplinary action. What do I do now?
As soon as possible, contact a professional license defense attorney. Don't wait for the board to call a formal hearing before seeking legal counsel, as the board will already have made its case against your case by then. The sooner into the process you involve an attorney, the better your chances of achieving a favorable outcome, particularly one that keeps your license intact and safeguards your career.
As a licensed cosmetologist, your entire livelihood hinges on your license. If it comes under fire, you need to take action quickly and protect your interests by hiring an experienced attorney. Don't risk your career by avoiding the process or attempting to go through it alone. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced license defense attorney with a proven track record of success in helping clients who are facing disciplinary action against their license. Protect your license and your livelihood today. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case and your options.