As a plumber or plumbing inspector, you know what it means to get your hands dirty. Plumbers spend years of training and thousands of dollars just for the right to operate in their state. Many states require plumbers to meet local requirements, pass an exam and obtain a license. Whether you have your Journeyman's or Master Plumber license, your career relies on your ability to remain certified.
Many agencies have strict regulations. Violating their rules can lead to disciplinary sanctions. Unfortunately, even a single act of misconduct can lead state regulatory agencies to revoke your license. Even temporarily losing your certification can threaten your career.
If you receive a complaint or notice of investigation, you must take it seriously. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is here to help. He has helped many clients retain their licenses in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. We've compiled a list of questions and answers to prepare you if your certification is in jeopardy.
What are some reasons the board would revoke my license?
Every state has different rules surrounding plumber certification. In New York, plumbers must register with the Secretary of State and local licensing agencies. New Jersey requires plumbers to register through the State Board of Examiners of Master Plumbers. In Pennsylvania, county and city offices handle plumbing licenses.
Although the process for getting certified differs by location, regulations are similar from state to state. Licensing agencies investigate and take disciplinary action against plumbers who violate their standards. Below are some of the most common offenses that can lead you to lose your certification:
- Fraud. Examples of fraud include deceit, misrepresentation, false statements, and bribery in obtaining a plumber's license.
- Negligence. Incompetence or misconduct that adversely affects your clients can jeopardize your license.
- Failure to comply. Refusing to comply with local codes, orders, regulations, and other requirements in your area can cost you your license.
- Failure to report. You may lose your license if you do not disclose changes in your business to state agencies, such as mergers or name changes.
- Criminal convictions. Being convicted of crimes, especially those that relate to plumbing, can put your license at risk.
- Employing an unlicensed person. If you employ a non-certified plumber who performs work that requires a license, you could lose your license.
- False advertising. Misrepresenting facts about your qualifications, making false statements about your achievements, or omitting pricing details in advertisements can cause you to lose your license.
- Failure to respond. If you face an investigation or complaint from a local agency, you must respond. Failing to comply with investigations can lead to new violations that cost you your license.
- Performing unlicensed services. You may lose your license if you provide services that go beyond the scope of your certification.
What penalties could I face besides losing my license?
If a local agency finds you guilty of a violation, you will not always lose your plumbing certification. A board may use different sanctions to punish you for the offense. The sanction generally depends on the severity of the allegation and the circumstances of the violation. Here are some of the disciplinary actions taken by licensing agencies.
- Fines. You might have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for your infraction.
- License suspension. Rather than revoking your license, the board may suspend you instead. You cannot operate as a plumber during the suspension. You must meet reinstatement terms to regain your license.
- Audit. The board may require you to provide records of your employment and services rendered during your suspension.
- Continuing education. The board may make you complete educational courses, counseling, or ethics-related classes to keep your license.
- Reprimand. The board may issue a reprimand, which can appear on public records.
Can minor penalties still hurt my business?
Yes. Your local board will typically allow you to continue working while you fulfill sanctions. However, sanctions can reduce your ability to bring in business. Disciplinary actions usually go on your public record. Even a minor sanction may make you look bad in the eyes of potential clients. For example, the official website of New Jersey displays a list of disciplinary actions involving local plumbers.
Since sanctions can hurt your career, you should do everything in your power to avoid them. Your best option is to use an experienced attorney to help you fight back and refute allegations.
Should I accept a voluntary surrender?
Many licensing agencies will offer plumbers the option of voluntarily surrendering their certification. By surrendering your certification, you can avoid facing other disciplinary action. Voluntary surrender may be a viable option if you feel the board has enough evidence to find you guilty of an offense.
Before accepting a voluntary surrender, you should consult an attorney. Voluntary surrender is a last resort for avoiding additional sanctions. By surrendering your license, you agree that you are guilty of the alleged offense. You also waive your right to a formal hearing or appeal.
While voluntarily surrendering may help your chances of reinstating your certification later, it can cause substantial damage to your career now. Your attorney can help you review your options and come to conclusions during negotiations.
What does the investigation process look like?
If you received notice that you're under investigation, you might not know what to expect. Fortunately, the investigation process is relatively straightforward. Licensing boards generally follow a pretty standard investigation process, although they can vary slightly from state to state. You should speak with your attorney to review the procedures in your area.
Most agencies use the following steps during investigations:
- Complaint. The board receives an allegation against you and decides whether to proceed with an investigation.
- Investigation. The board reviews evidence to determine if the allegation occurred. In addition to speaking with the complainant, they can ask you to respond to the accusations. You may make statements and provide evidence that supports your position.
- Notice of infraction. If the board deems that the violation occurred, they will send you a written notice of infraction. This notice typically includes a list of violations and sanctions. The board's decision is final unless you choose to request a hearing. If you fail to respond to the notice by a given deadline, you cannot contest the decision.
- Hearing. If you do challenge the board's decision, the case will move to a formal hearing. You have the right to defend yourself against the allegations. During the hearing, you may call witnesses, give testimony, and present evidence. The board will decide your responsibility and sanctions.
- Appeal. If you disagree with the board's findings, you can still fight back. Boards typically allow plumbers to appeal decisions within a set timeframe. You must file a notice citing specific grounds for an appeal. An attorney can assist you in challenging the board members' decisions.
Communication is key during the disciplinary process. You must make sure that you respond to notices, submit documents, and file paperwork promptly. A professional license defense attorney will make sure that you meet the board's deadlines. They can also help you negotiate with the board and work to reduce or dismiss your charges.
What happens if I refuse to respond to the complaint or cooperate with the investigation?
When you receive your plumber's certification, you agree to abide by rules set forth by the licensing agency and the state. One of the primary rules is that you cooperate with investigations into your conduct. Failing to respond to complaints, notices, or requests for information can be extremely damaging to your career. Not only can it lead you to lose your license, but it can also cause additional disciplinary action. Failing to cooperate with the board may also make it more difficult to reinstate your certification.
While you have to comply with investigations, you should also be aware of your rights. Many plumbers are unaware that they can use an attorney during investigations. An attorney will communicate with board members and ensure that you fully comply with their rules.
Can I still work while I'm under investigation?
It depends. In some cases, an allegation will warrant a temporary license suspension by the board. As long as the board does not issue a suspension of your license, you can continue to work. It's a good idea to consult with your attorney and employer about restrictions that could impact your ability to work.
In general, your best option is to continue to operate as if it is business as usual. You can continue marketing your services and serving clients as long as you still have your plumber's license. Many plumbers go through investigations without experiencing any work stoppages. In many cases, an investigation will not lead to a license suspension or revocation. You may continue working until someone tells you not to do so.
Do I have to disclose that my license is under investigation?
As long as the board allows you to continue working, you do not need to reveal that you are under investigation. In some cases, employers require you to disclose that you face disciplinary action. Failing to disclose this information could violate company policy, which can lead to your termination. You should consult your company's policies to make sure you remain compliant.
An investigation can hurt your reputation among clients and colleagues. If people ask you about the allegations, you should avoid giving away too much information. You may want to tell your side of the story to clear your name. However, this can end up doing more harm than good. You can be honest about the situation without divulging specific details. It's a good idea to let people know that you face disciplinary action and are cooperating with the investigation.
How should I deal with clients if the board revokes my license?
Many plumbers rely on recurring business from loyal clients. It can take years to expand your client base and establish trust in your community. When you lose your license, all of your business can disappear in an instant.
If you believe you may lose your license, the best thing you can do is plan for that scenario. You do not want to leave your clients without help if they experience a plumbing emergency. A good strategy is to create a referral system with another plumber.
You can reach out to trusted colleagues and see if they can take on your clients should you lose your license. If the board revokes your license, you can direct client requests to another plumber. While you may not want to send business to the competition, a referral system can benefit you in the long-term. It shows that you are willing to assist your clients even if it does not benefit you. You may be able to regain your clients once you reinstate your license.
Can I deal with the board on my own?
Even though you have the right to defend yourself, facing the board on your own can prove costly in the end. Many plumbers believe that board members are on their side. In reality, licensing agencies are often adversarial. They protect the public from plumbers who violate their rules.
You should assume that the board will use anything you say against you during your investigation. Even if you feel you are innocent, saying the wrong thing to the board can hurt your case. The best thing you can do is use an administrative law attorney to communicate with the board.
Attorneys understand the disciplinary process and how to challenge accusations. Licensing issues are also a legal matter within the state. Having a legal expert by your side gives you an opportunity at a favorable outcome.
What kind of attorney should I use?
You can choose any attorney who is licensed in your state to represent you. While you have many representation options, your best option is a professional license defense lawyer. These types of lawyers have the experience necessary to challenge licensing boards. They also have a keen understanding of the disciplinary process and can challenge any violations of your rights.
Much like plumbers, professional license defense attorneys require specialized training and knowledge. You need an attorney with a history of challenging licensing boards in your state. A license defense attorney gives you the best chance of success.
What do I do if a board investigator reaches out to me?
If a representative reaches out to you, you should not communicate with them alone. You can either request to speak with an attorney present or refer them to your attorney directly. Your attorney will know how to navigate these conversations and avoid putting your defense at risk.
Investigators do not always have your best interest at heart. They may pressure you to speak with them before you have an opportunity to formulate a defense. If an investigator reaches out, you should tell them that your attorney will be in touch. You are still in cooperation with the investigation if you have your attorney handle communication with the investigator.
The board revoked my license. What do I do next?
You should contact a professional license defense attorney if the board revoked or suspended your license. States have different rules and procedures for license reinstatement. Many agencies also require you to meet strict deadlines to reinstate your license.
Although the process may look different depending on your area, the reinstatement process typically looks like this:
- Fill out a reinstatement application
- Pay for reinstatement and outstanding fees
- Provide certification that verifies you completed reinstatement conditions
- Submit a written list of employment held during suspension with contact information for employers
Since reinstating your plumber's license can be tedious, you should use an attorney during this process. Your attorney will make sure you fulfill all requirements on time. They can also negotiate with the board to reinstate your license as soon as possible.
When should I contact an attorney?
You should consider hiring an attorney as soon as you receive a complaint or discover you face an investigation. Every moment is valuable leading up to disciplinary proceedings. The sooner that you consult an attorney, the sooner they can begin defending you.
Losing your plumber's license can have long-term ramifications on your career. By getting an attorney involved early, you can increase your chances of reducing or dismissing potential sanctions. Your attorney will use the time at their disposal to negotiate with board members, formulate a defense, and discover paths to success. Disciplinary proceedings can jeopardize your career. By using an experienced attorney now, you can avoid larger problems from emerging down the road.
If you face a license suspension or revocation, attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are here to help. He has helped many licensed professionals navigate the disciplinary process and achieve a successful outcome. Whether you live in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or New York, Joseph D. Lento will use his keen understanding of licensing regulations to defend you. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation today.