Losing your professional license can be a career-ending event. It can also be an extremely costly and time-consuming process to try and get it back. As a licensed, certified, and/or registered hearing aid specialist (sometimes also called a "hearing aid dispenser"), your livelihood is dependent on your license. Unfortunately, all it may take to put that license in jeopardy is for one person to lodge a complaint against you with the state licensing board. That complaint could trigger an investigation, which ultimately may result in disciplinary action against you--up to and including revoking your license to dispense hearing aids.
If you're currently in the situation of being investigated for alleged wrongdoing as a hearing aid specialist, you may be filled with questions and uncertainty. What happens if you lose my license? How do you respond to a complaint? What does the disciplinary process look like? Most importantly, how can you protect your license and your career?
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many licensed and certified professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York who are in your situation. He knows the ins and outs of the licensing process and can help you get through this difficult time. The Lento Law Firm has compiled some frequently asked questions and answers below about professional license defense for hearing aid specialists.
Which state agency handles complaints against my hearing aid dispenser's license?
Generally speaking, the board, agency, or committee that issued your hearing aid license is the same body that will field complaints, oversee investigations, and hand down disciplinary actions for violations and misconduct. If you are licensed in New Jersey, you'll answer to the Hearing Aid Dispensers Examining Committee; if you're registered in Pennsylvania, it's the Pennsylvania Department of Health Hearing Aid Program; and in New York, you answer to the New York Department of State.
What types of offenses could cause someone to lose their license as a hearing aid specialist?
A hearing aid specialist can lose their license over a wide range of violations and issues, but in most cases, it has something to do with either violating state policies or codes of conduct--or otherwise violating public trust. Common examples include:
- Gross negligence or incompetence. Poorly fitted or improperly configured hearing aids can be ineffective at best or harmful at worst. So can fitting someone for a hearing aid who may need the help of an audiologist for treating an infection or other ear problem. Endangering patients through negligence or incompetence at your job may be grounds for losing your license.
- Fraud or false advertising. Examples include overbilling for services or products, misrepresenting yourself to patients, etc.
- Unprofessional/unethical conduct toward patients or colleagues. Examples range from inappropriate/abusive office behavior to sexual harassment or misconduct.
- Performing services that are outside the scope of your license. (For example, posing as an audiologist and attempting to diagnose patients without a medical degree.)
- Permitting unlicensed employees to perform functions that require a license.
- Substance abuse/addiction. Drug or excessive drinking might cast doubt on your judgment and job performance, especially if you're observed while under the influence at work.
- Being convicted of a crime. In many states, being convicted of a crime is grounds for losing your license--especially when it involves a crime of moral turpitude such as sexual abuse, endangering a child, etc.
Are there other penalties that wouldn't involve losing my license?
Yes. Depending on the circumstances of your case and the severity of the offense, the licensing board may choose to impose lesser penalties that don't involve completely revoking your license or certification. Some examples include:
- License suspension. Your license may be suspended by the board for a specified period, subject to further review after conditions are met.
- License restriction. You may be restricted by the board in what activities you are allowed to perform or what services you can offer.
- Fines. A monetary penalty may be imposed by the board.
- Requirements for continuing education. If the infraction occurred due to a lapse in your education, the board may mandate continuing education courses as a condition for keeping your license.
- Probation. Probation means that the board will keep an eye on your progress for a set period of time to make sure you are meeting the requirements to keep your license active.
- Formal reprimand. You may be issued a private or public warning by the board.
These other penalties may be better than having your license revoked completely, but they can still cause damage to your career since most disciplinary actions are public records. Patients, potential employers, and clinics can quickly look up your records to see if any disciplinary actions were taken against you. This could affect their willingness to work with you. Hiring a skilled professional license defense attorney may minimize these risks.
What does the hearing aid specialist discipline process look like?
In general, the disciplinary procedure should be similar across different states. You can anticipate a process that looks something like this:
- Complaint. Most disciplinary proceedings begin with a formal complaint to the board. This complaint may be filed either by a colleague, patient, coworker, etc. In the event of a criminal conviction, the board may be notified by law enforcement or by periodically checking criminal records.
- Review. The board will examine the complaint to determine its merit and credibility, as well as to decide whether it falls within its scope of authority.
- Investigation. The board will launch a formal investigation to determine whether there is evidence to support the complaint. They will likely invite you to file a written response to the complaint; they may also interview witnesses and examine documents.
- Consent order. If there is sufficient evidence to support the complaint, the board may negotiate a consent order as an alternative to a full hearing. A consent order is an agreement between the state and you in which you agree to submit to disciplinary action as determined by the board.
- Formal hearing. In the event that a consent order is not reached, or the charges are particularly severe, the matter will be moved to a formal hearing. This hearing may take place in front of either the board or an Administrative Law Judge, depending on your state's rules. You may have an attorney represent you at the hearing.
- Final determination. The board will decide what disciplinary actions to take against you (if any), including the possibility of your license being revoked.
At any point during this timeline, the board can decide that there isn't enough evidence to support the complaint and dismiss the case--or they may agree to impose lesser penalties as part of an agreement.
What is a consent order? If one is offered, should I accept it?
Consent orders are legally binding agreements between the state and the board. They allow you to agree on a set of prescribed sanctions instead of a formal hearing. A consent order may be a good option if there is sufficient evidence to support disciplinary action, especially if it allows you to keep your license or at least provides terms for reinstatement. A consent order, on the other hand, is an admission of guilt. It will still be recorded as a disciplinary order and appear on your public records. If you have evidence to refute the complaint, a consent order may not be the best option. Never agree to a consent order without having an attorney review it.
Why is it necessary to hire an attorney to protect my hearing aid specialist's license?
When a complaint is filed against your license, you may be tempted to downplay the problem or to think you can resolve the issue simply by explaining things to the licensing board. It's important to understand that the licensing board is not your friend--especially when a complaint is filed. It's their job to protect the public, not you--and if you're accused of wrongdoing, the board has wide-reaching authority and a low burden of proof. Without an experienced attorney to protect your rights, you could easily lose your hearing aid dispenser's license even over a supposedly minor offense. Any attempt to meet with the board informally can backfire because the board is actively searching for evidence of wrongdoing.
Your professional license is effectively a legal agreement between the state and you, and that means any action taken by the board against your license is a legal action. For that reason, it's in your best interests to have a lawyer represent you before the board. You have a better chance of getting a fair result if you do this.
Do minor allegations mean I don't need an attorney?
Even if your offense appears minor, it is still a good idea to retain an attorney for the best results. It is a mistake to assume that the board will not revoke your license for a minor offense, and remember, even minor complaints can cause damage to your career if they lead to disciplinary action. A good attorney can improve your chances of keeping your license, and if the complaint is indeed minor, the attorney may be able to negotiate for the complaint to be dropped, so no disciplinary action shows up in public records.
Will hiring an attorney make me look guilty to the board or committee?
Absolutely not. The board doesn't expect you to be able to comprehend the legal or disciplinary processes involved in this investigation. They are comfortable interacting with lawyers, and they don't presume you are guilty because you hired an attorney.
What can an experienced attorney do to help me keep my license?
An experienced license defense attorney can employ multiple strategies that greatly improve your chances of keeping your license intact. An experienced attorney can:
- Make sure you understand the nature of the complaint and what is at stake if the board decides you are guilty
- Collaborate with you to develop a defense strategy to respond to the complaint
- Assume the role of your official legal representative when you interact with the board or the Administrative Law Judge
- Collect evidence and witnesses in your favor
- Negotiate with the board at several points to have the complaint dismissed and/or for a more lenient outcome
- Defend you in a formal hearing
- Assist you in getting your license reinstated, if it has already been suspended or revoked
Do I have to allow an investigator into my house or business if they show up unannounced?
No, you don't--nor should you. Don't feel pressured to let an investigator in your home or office unannounced. You could be held responsible for anything you say or do. Instead, get their contact information and politely inform them that your attorney will contact them. While you are expected to cooperate in any investigation, you have the right not to put yourself at a disadvantage or to do/say anything that might incriminate you.
Is it possible to have my license reinstated if it was revoked?
Yes, in certain cases. Many state licensing boards have a process for restoring licenses to those who are eligible--or at least allowing them to reapply. You may have to meet certain criteria or conditions before your reinstatement will be considered. These may include:
- Submitting a formal request for reinstatement, including a written explanation of why you are requesting it
- Paying any back fines and current filing fees
- Sending a detailed job history for all jobs performed while your license was inactive
- Providing proof that you have met any previously imposed requirements for reinstatement (e.g., continuing education).
- Submitting to any action plan the board may deem appropriate.
A good license defense attorney can coordinate your application and monitor its status to ensure the best chance of reinstatement as a hearing aid specialist. They can also negotiate with the board to get the best terms for your reinstatement.
I just received notification that I am being investigated. How soon should I contact an attorney?
The sooner you act, the better. You may find yourself at a disadvantage if you wait for the complaint to reach the formal hearing stage before calling an attorney. The board won't usually call such hearings unless there is enough evidence to revoke your license, to begin with. Hiring an attorney early in the process provides more opportunities to find a favorable resolution, possibly making a formal hearing irrelevant. It also gives you more time to develop a strong defense.
Your career prospects could be in jeopardy if your hearing aid specialist license has come under investigation. Your career is too precious to take unnecessary risks. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced license defense attorney with an excellent track record of success. He is familiar with how these licensing boards work and the disciplinary procedures. Do not let your career be ruined by a mistake or misunderstanding. Let us help you to save your license. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case and your options.