With the skincare industry growing by leaps and bounds, the demand for licensed estheticians continues to grow. Since professional skincare requires public trust, you've had to jump through a lot of hoops to become a licensed esthetician. You've had to take a state-approved course, obtain hundreds of hours of work experience, and take some grueling exams to get licensed. Your very livelihood now depends on that license remaining in good standing. So when a complaint to the board or a failed inspection jeopardizes that license, it can wreak havoc on your personal and professional life. Sadly, many states have very strict and sometimes arbitrary rules on operating a beauty practice, and a simple mistake or misstep can put your license in jeopardy.
If you are facing possible disciplinary action as a licensed esthetician, your mind may be flooded with questions. What happens if I lose my license? What if I'm fined more than I can pay? Will I lose my business or my ability to make a living?
Fortunately, we have some answers for you. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience with state licensing boards in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York, and he understands what is at stake when an esthetician faces board discipline. The Lento Law Firm has compiled the following answers to commonly asked questions so you can go through this process better informed—and most importantly, you'll know what to do to save your license and your ability to work.
What State Agency Regulates My License?
Every state has its own licensing board that regulates the licensing of estheticians and investigates violations. In New Jersey, for example, estheticians are licensed through the New Jersey State Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling. In Pennsylvania, it's done through the State Board of Cosmetology. In New York, licensing is handled through the Division of Licensing Services, and so on, throughout the nation. All rules and regulations regarding licensing and performing skincare services are established by these departments, and they also make decisions regarding disciplinary actions.
What actions or accusations could cause me to lose my esthetician's license?
Each state licensing board establishes its own rules regarding the proper practice of esthetics, and in most cases, losing one's license will have something to do with violating those rules. Some of the most common examples might include:
- Improper cleanliness practices. Estheticians must clean and disinfect their instruments between customers, wash, disinfect, and store towels properly, keep their workspaces clean, etc. Failing to do so could get you in trouble.
- Improper disposal of potentially infectious items. Items that can't be reused (e.g., buffers, sponges, swabs, etc.) must be disposed of carefully to prevent the spread of disease—the same as in a doctor's office. Handling these items improperly could cost you your license.
- Acting beyond your qualifications. If you provide treatments that extend beyond the scope of your license, you could lose your license.
- Professional incompetence or negligence. Failing to measure up to the standards of your profession when treating clients, or acting abusively toward them, can cost you your license.
- Failing an inspection. State agents will inspect your practice, sometimes unannounced. Repeated violations that aren't corrected could cause you to be shut down.
- Failing to keep your license current. Esthetician's licenses must be renewed periodically. Failing to meet the renewal requirements (or neglecting to renew at all) can cause a permanent revocation of your license.
- Failing to pay fines for violations. If you rack up unpaid civil penalties for prior violations, the board may revoke your license.
What other penalties could I face besides losing my license?
Not every violation results in the loss of a license, and in fact, many violations do not. For individual or “minor” violations, the board may opt for more lenient forms of discipline, including any/all of the following:
- Fines. Sometimes referred to as “civil penalties,” fines are perhaps the most common form of discipline for estheticians, especially for lesser violations.
- Probation. The board may put you on probation for a period of time to give you a chance to correct bad practices.
- Suspending your license. The board may prohibit you from practicing for a specified period of time or until certain conditions are met.
- Reprimand or citation. The board may issue a written reprimand in response to the violation.
Can these lesser penalties do damage to my career as an esthetician?
Yes, they can. As with most licensed professions, any disciplinary action taken by the licensing board becomes a matter of public record—even fines. If a client or a potential employer decides to look you up online, those disciplinary actions will be available to view—and they could affect people's decisions to hire you, work with you or become your customer.
What does the disciplinary process look like for a violation or complaint?
The disciplinary process for licensed estheticians may vary widely from state to state. For some alleged violations, you may simply be fined in some states, while other, more serious violations may go through a more formal process. In other states, the disciplinary process may follow that of other licensed professions. In any case, you should be prepared to go through a process similar to the below:
- Complaint or failed inspection. Any disciplinary process typically begins because an inspector found you in violation of the rules during an inspection or because someone filed a complaint against you to the board.
- Review. The board may do an initial review of the complaint to decide whether it falls under their authority.
- Investigation. The licensing board may conduct an investigation to see if there is sufficient evidence to support the complaint. You may be given an opportunity to respond to the complaint and give your side of the story. The complainant or inspector may also be interviewed, along with any witnesses, as the board sees fit.
- Consent order. If the board finds enough evidence to penalize you or possibly revoke your license, it may approach you with an offer for a consent order or consent decree (also sometimes called a stipulated agreement). Whatever the term used, this is a formal agreement with the state and with the board in which you agree to certain penalties in order to resolve the matter without having to move into a formal hearing.
- Hearing. If needed, the matter may move into a formal hearing, either in front of the board itself or in front of an Administrative Law Judge. This hearing gives you an opportunity to defend yourself against the complaint (typically with the help of a license defense attorney).
- Determination and disciplinary action. The board makes a final decision as to what (if any) disciplinary action will be taken against you.
Not every complaint against an esthetician goes into a formal hearing. In fact, there may be multiple opportunities along the way to resolve the matter and avoid the hearing. Hiring an experienced license defense attorney can improve your chances for a more favorable resolution, often avoiding the formal hearing in the process.
Should I agree to a consent order if one is offered to me?
That depends. A consent order is essentially an admission of guilt, along with an agreement to submit to disciplinary action. If the board has significant evidence that you committed misconduct, and if the alternative is having your license revoked, a consent order might be a better option for you. A consent order may also improve your chances of having your license eventually reinstated if the board suspends or revokes it. However, if you can provide evidence that disproves the allegation made against you, agreeing to a consent order may be premature and may not give you the best outcome. We recommend that you don't accept a consent order without the advice of an attorney who is experienced in license defense.
Why is it necessary to have an attorney to defend my esthetician license?
While you always have the right to represent yourself in front of the licensing board or at a formal hearing, it's a much better idea to hire an attorney to help you. Here's why:
- The board is not your ally. The state licensing board is not a professional association that offers support for people in your profession. They do not exist to protect you, but to protect the public. Any complaint or violation is seen as a breach of public trust, so the board is actively looking for evidence to prove that you committed a violation. Attempting to solve the matter on your own or informally won't help you, and in fact, it might hurt you.
- A professional license investigation is a legal matter. Your professional license constitutes a legal agreement with the state, so any investigation is a legal matter. When dealing with matters of law, it helps to have a legal expert in your corner.
- The board has more experience with license discipline than you do. That means that by default, the board has the home-field advantage, and you are at a disadvantage. Hiring an attorney helps to even the odds because it gives you a better chance at defending yourself.
In short, you should consider hiring an attorney because your chances of a positive resolution are much greater with an attorney than if you try to resolve the matter on your own.
Do I still need to hire an attorney if the allegations are minor?
Even if you think you're facing minor penalties for the alleged violation, it's still in your best interests to hire an attorney, for two important reasons:
- First—the offense may not be as “minor” as you think. The board may still opt to revoke your license as it sees fit, even for supposedly minor offenses.
- Second—even minor offenses can hurt your public record and your reputation. Remember, almost all disciplinary actions become part of your public record. If hiring an attorney gives you a better chance at having the complaint dismissed and avoiding the black mark on your record, why wouldn't you do so?
What kind of attorney do I need?
Any licensed attorney can serve as your legal representative in licensing board disciplinary matters—but not every attorney has the experience or expertise to help you through it. Don't hire an attorney simply on price or based on the recommendation of friends, family members, or coworkers. Instead, we recommend finding an attorney with specific experience in license defense cases, as well as a track record of success. An attorney who knows the board licensing systems in your state will have a better working knowledge of what steps to take to protect your license.
What can a license defense attorney do for me?
An experienced license defense lawyer can implement numerous strategies to minimize the impact of a violation and protect your esthetician's license from being revoked. A good professional license attorney can:
- Review the violations or complaints against you and give you a clear understanding of what is at stake
- Act as your legal representative in all interactions with the licensing board
- Compile evidence and gather witnesses to prove your innocence
- Negotiate for dismissal of the complaint or work for the most lenient resolution possible
- Defend you vigorously in a formal hearing, if the process goes that far
- File any appropriate appeals on your behalf
- Dispute or appeal fines that were issued unjustly
Can a license defense attorney help me get my license reinstated if it has already been revoked?
Yes. Most states will have prescribed steps you can take toward having your esthetician's license reinstated, and if your suspension/revocation comes as part of a consent order, that order may also contain steps for reinstatement. Your attorney can help streamline the process and coordinate with the licensing board to help you get your license reinstated.
Every state may have different stipulations, but in most cases, the path toward reinstatement involves some version of the following:
- Filling out an application or request for reinstatement
- Providing a written explanation of why you're asking for reinstatement and why the board should consider it
- Paying any applicable fees
- Completing any pre-determined requirements (e.g., paying fines, continuing education)
- Agreeing to any conditions or plan of action which the board may prescribe before reinstatement
A good license attorney can make this process go more smoothly by coordinating your paperwork and fees, staying in touch with the board during your application process, and negotiating the best terms and conditions for your reinstatement where applicable.
Do I have to close my spa/salon or stop working during an investigation?
Unless the licensing board has issued an interim or emergency suspension of your license, you are free to continue working as normal while the investigation is ongoing. This includes any marketing or recruiting efforts you have underway. Many investigations do not result in losing your license, so it makes sense to continue with business as usual unless you are told otherwise by the licensing board.
Am I required to disclose the investigation to colleagues or clients? What do I say if they ask me about it?
In most cases, you are under no obligation legally to disclose to clients or colleagues that your license is under investigation. The exception might be if you work in a salon and the terms of your contract require you to tell your employer. Make sure you're aware of company policy regarding investigations, so your job is not jeopardized as a result.
That being said, sometimes word gets around. If someone asks you about being investigated, our advice is to be honest, but sparing with the details. Resist the urge to defend yourself or tell “your side of the story,” as that may put you in a bad light. Instead, simply acknowledge the investigation but assure them that you are cooperating and that you intend to continue providing superior service in the meantime.
I've just received notice of a complaint, and my license is in jeopardy. How soon into the process should I contact an attorney?
Truthfully, the sooner you involve an experienced license defense attorney, the better your chances for a more favorable resolution. To many working professionals, the most reasonable time to hire an attorney is when preparing for a formal hearing, but waiting until a hearing means you're starting out on the defensive. Bringing on an attorney earlier in the process means you have more opportunities to negotiate for dismissal of the complaint, as well as more time to prepare your defense strategy.
The Bottom Line…
As a licensed esthetician, your whole career hinges on your license remaining in good standing with the state. Without that license, you cannot legally perform the services your clients have come to expect of you. For that reason, it makes no sense to take unnecessary risks when your license is jeopardized by an alleged violation or complaint. Even an honest mistake can be disastrous for your career—unless you have a good attorney in your corner.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience defending licensed professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. He knows how the disciplinary process works in these states, and he knows the best arguments and strategies to improve the chances for a favorable outcome. Don't let yourself become a victim of a misunderstanding or a simple lapse in judgment. Get the legal help you need to protect your license and your career. Call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case and your options.