If you are a massage therapist, your livelihood hinges on your license. Massage therapy is an occupation requiring a great deal of public trust, and you've studied hard and worked hard to earn that trust. Unfortunately, a single allegation of wrongdoing can potentially throw your career into jeopardy. If the state licensing board launches an investigation, it may result in disciplinary action against you, up to and including losing your license to practice.
All is not hopeless, however--with the help of an experienced professional license defense attorney, you may be able to avoid the worst and greatly improve your chances of coming out of the disciplinary process unscathed. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has a track record of success helping licensed professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York who are facing disciplinary action over allegations of wrongdoing and other licensing issues.
In the event that you face disciplinary action from your licensing board, it is crucial to have an understanding of what may happen and how to protect yourself. The Lento Law Firm has developed the following FAQ to provide an overview of the professional license defense process for massage therapists.
What agency will I answer to if I'm accused of wrongdoing as a massage therapist?
The state board that issued your massage therapist license also fields complaints against licensees, conducts investigations, and imposes disciplinary actions as it deems appropriate. If you're licensed in New Jersey, you'll answer to the New Jersey Board of Massage and Bodywork Therapy; if in Pennsylvania, you'll deal with the State Board of Massage Therapy; and in New York, it's the Massage Therapy division of the Office of the Professions.
What types of accusations/offenses could cause me to lose my massage therapist's license?
There is a broad range of potential offenses that could lead to disciplinary action against your massage therapist's license, including having the license revoked. Most such offenses have something to do with violating state policies regarding your license and/or violations of the public trust. Some of the more common offenses include:
- Illegal sexual contact with a client. Maintaining appropriate boundaries with clients is critical when you're a massage therapist. Sexual relationships or any type of sexual contact with clients are strictly prohibited, and these will typically result in license revocation if discovered.
- Sanitation violations. Massage therapy facilities are required to follow strict protocols for cleanliness and sanitation, and they can be shut down over complaints of poor sanitation. By the same token, you'll be subjected to regular state inspections, and if you refuse to allow inspectors access, your license could be suspended or revoked.
- Allowing unlicensed employees to perform massages. Allowing anyone unlicensed to act as a licensed massage therapist could result in losing your own license.
- Acting outside the scope of your license. Performing services you're not licensed to offer (for example, acupuncture or medical services) can cause you to lose your license.
- Fraudulent activities. Examples include billing for services not rendered, false advertising, etc.
- Addiction/substance abuse. Untreated addictions or excessive alcohol use can jeopardize your license because these issues can affect your ability to do your job safely and effectively.
- Criminal convictions. Being convicted of certain criminal offenses can also put your massage therapist license in jeopardy.
Will the board automatically revoke my license over an offense or violation?
No. While the board does have the power to suspend or revoke your license, it will first go through a process of investigation and review, taking into account the situation and circumstances. Loss of license is the worst-case scenario, but it is not the only option. At the board's discretion, it may impose lesser penalties such as the following:
- License suspension. Your license may be suspended for a period of time with the option of reinstatement under certain conditions.
- Fines. The board may impose a monetary fine.
- Restrictions on your license. The board may restrict you from certain activities.
- Probation. The board may put you on a probationary period, possibly with supervision.
- Mandatory treatment/counseling. In instances of substance abuse, for example, the board may allow you to go through treatment as a condition of keeping your license.
- Formal reprimand. The board may place a simple letter of reprimand on your record.
Could disciplinary actions hurt my career even if I get to keep my license?
Yes. Although you may be able to keep your professional license with lesser penalties, most disciplinary actions against one's license are a matter of public record and visible to the public. If a prospective employer or client sees the disciplinary notation, it could affect their willingness to work with you.
What does the disciplinary process look like?
Each state's disciplinary process for massage therapists has its own protocols, but most professional licensure disciplinary processes go through a series of steps as follows:
- Complaint. Most disciplinary proceedings against massage therapists begin with a formal complaint to the licensing board, which may be made by a client, coworker, colleague, etc.
- Investigation. The board will launch an investigation to determine whether the complaint has merit. If applicable, the board may ask you to reply to the complaint in writing. They may also call for witnesses and examine papers.
- Consent order. If the board accumulates substantial evidence supporting the complaint, they may offer to have you sign a consent order to save the effort and expense of a formal hearing. A consent decree is a voluntary admission of wrongdoing in which you agree that you will comply with any disciplinary actions recommended by the board.
- Hearing. In the absence of a consent order, the board may ask you to attend a formal hearing to answer the complaint against you. This hearing may take place directly before the board or in front of an administrative law judge. You may also bring an attorney to represent you.
- Final determination and action. After the formal hearing, the board will make a final determination as to what penalties it will impose, up to and including revoking your massage therapist's license.
Bear in mind that at any point in this process, the board may decide to drop the complaint against you if there is insufficient evidence of wrongdoing or for other reasons. Having a skilled license defense attorney on your side can greatly improve your chances of keeping your license or even avoiding any penalties altogether.
Should I sign a consent order if one is offered?
It depends on the situation. If the proof against you is compelling and penalties are all but certain, a consent order can save you the trouble of having to go before a formal hearing, and in many cases, the consent order will include a possible path to reinstatement. At the same time, a consent order is an admission to wrongdoing that will be a matter of public record, so it might not be in your best interests, especially if you have a solid defense to the allegations. We don't suggest signing any consent order until you've had an attorney review it with you.
An investigator has shown up at my home or business. Am I required to let them enter?
No--and in fact, you shouldn't let them enter. While you're required to cooperate with the investigation itself, an investigator sent by the licensing board is actively looking for evidence against you, and you have the right not to do or say anything that would incriminate you or be otherwise used against you. If an investigator shows up, politely refer them to your attorney. (NOTE: An investigation is NOT the same thing as a routine inspection of your facility. You are required to submit to periodic inspections, and you could be penalized if you don't.)
Why do I need to hire an attorney to help me with the licensing board?
Many professionals, including massage therapists, don't know how to navigate the disciplinary process with their respective licensing boards. If you are accused of wrongdoing, the licensing board has broad authority to invoke discipline with a low burden on proof. These cases are different from criminal trials. You are not presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
While you are allowed to represent yourself before the licensing board on your behalf, this is not usually a good idea because the board is not necessarily impartial the way a judge would be in a trial setting. If you are alleged to have violated public trust, the board will actively seek evidence against you because their job is to protect the public. This puts you at an automatic disadvantage, which is why having an attorney with specific experience in professional license defense is your best bet for obtaining a more favorable outcome and protecting your career.
Does hiring an attorney make me look guilty to the board?
No, it doesn't. State licensing boards are used to working with lawyers and hiring one does not make them presume you are guilty. In fact, hiring an attorney works in your favor because first, you have someone there to protect your rights, and second, it sends a message that you take the complaint seriously.
Do I need to hire an attorney if my offense is minor?
Whether the infraction appears minor or not, you should not assume that a board will not revoke your license for a minor offense. Additionally, even lesser disciplinary actions against your license will appear in public records and possibly work against you. Having a skilled attorney in your corner can help you avoid these outcomes. If the offense is truly minor, a good attorney may be able to negotiate with the board to have the complaint dismissed, so there is no record of disciplinary actions to deal with.
Is there a way to get my license reinstated if it was revoked?
In certain circumstances, yes. Many states offer a pathway where you can apply for reinstatement of your massage therapist license after a certain period. Reinstatement may be subject to certain conditions, which may include the following:
- Sending a request for reinstatement with a written explanation.
- Paying off outstanding fines or fees.
- Submitting a list of your employment history while your license was inactive.
- Agreeing to any action plan that the board may put in place as a condition for reinstatement.
In these cases, a professional license defense attorney can help coordinate your reinstatement application, monitor its progress, and negotiate with the board for the best terms.
How does hiring a license defense attorney help me?
By hiring an attorney with experience in professional license defense, you will greatly increase your chances of resolving the complaint against you without losing your massage therapist's license. A good attorney will understand the workings of the board and how to navigate the disciplinary process to your best advantage. Your attorney can:
- Evaluate the complaint against you and inform you of your options.
- Develop a strong defense strategy to answer the complaint against you.
- Collect evidence and gather witnesses to bolster your defense.
- Act as your legal representative in all correspondence and interactions with the licensing board.
- Negotiate with the board at multiple stages to have the complaint dismissed or for reduced penalties.
I've received notice that my massage therapist license is under investigation. How soon should I hire an attorney?
Contact a licensed defense attorney as soon as possible. Do not wait for the board to call a formal hearing before getting a lawyer involved--that simply gives the board more time to build its case against you. The sooner in the process you hire a skilled attorney to help you, the greater your chances of keeping your license and the greater your chances that a formal hearing won't even be necessary.
Your license is the foundation of your livelihood as a massage therapist. You must act quickly to protect yourself and your license if it is under threat. Do not delay the process or attempt to do it yourself. Joseph D. Lento, a licensed defense attorney, has a track record of success helping clients facing disciplinary action against their licenses. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case and your options.