Becoming a licensed professional engineer (PE) takes a lot of time, energy, and hard work. Besides years of technical education, more years serving in apprenticeships, and grueling exams, professional engineers bear a huge burden of public trust as even minor miscalculations can often result in disastrous consequences. It's little wonder that PEs are highly regulated by their state licensing boards—and even seemingly small violations may put their professional license at risk.
If you are a professional engineer under investigation and you don't know how to navigate the disciplinary process (most engineers don't), your entire livelihood could be at risk as you face the licensing board. Hiring a professional license defense lawyer may be the best way to protect your future. Joseph D. Lento is a skilled attorney who has helped many licensed professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York whose licenses have been placed at risk. The Lento Law Firm has compiled the following information to help you know what to expect.
If Someone Files a Complaint or Allegation Against Me, What Agency Handles the Disciplinary Process?
The state licensing board that issued your professional engineering license is also responsible for administering disciplinary action for violations of the state's professional standards—so if you're accused of wrongdoing or incompetent practices, you'll answer to the state licensing board. For example, if you are licensed in New Jersey, you'll deal with the State Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. In Pennsylvania, you'll answer to the State Registration Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists. And in New York, it's the Professional Engineering & Land Surveying division of the Office of the Professions.
What Types of Offenses Could Put My Professional Engineering License at Risk?
Most violations that would endanger your PE license have to do with violations of the standards and practices established by your state, as well as violations of the public trust. Common reasons for losing a professional engineering license include the following:
- Criminal convictions. Certain types of crimes can disqualify you from working as a licensed engineer. Each state has its own standards for what constitutes a disqualifying crime, but in most cases, the list includes DUI, crimes of moral turpitude (e.g., theft, assault, child abuse, murder, fraud), and/or felony offenses in general. Most licensing boards also require you to report when you have been convicted of a crime, whether or not it is a disqualifying crime. If you fail to do so, this can also be grounds for revoking or suspending your license.
- Substance abuse. Drug or alcohol abuse are generally points of great concern to professional engineering licensing boards because these substances can cloud your judgment and your performance, making it unsafe to perform your job.
- Gross negligence/incompetence.Repeated code violations and errors can definitely put your license in jeopardy—especially if those errors result in accidents that involve fatalities.
What Does the Disciplinary Process Look Like if My License Is Called Into Question?
Most disciplinary actions against professional engineers begin with some sort of complaint filed with the state licensing board. The board will then follow a series of procedural steps to process the complaint and administer discipline as necessary. This is how the process looks in general.
- Investigation. The board will determine whether the complaint is valid by conducting a thorough investigation. The board may ask for your written response, request certain documents, interview the complainant and/or other witnesses, etc. If the complaint stems from an accident related to your work (e.g., a building collapse or fatality resulting from something you designed), they may also conduct a forensic investigation of the accident scene.
- Consent order. If the board finds enough evidence of wrongdoing that disciplinary action is likely, the board may offer you the option of signing a consent order—a voluntary agreement between you and the board in which you admit to wrongdoing and submit to a specified penalty.
- Formal hearing. If there is no consent order agreement, the board will schedule a formal hearing in which you will be able to present your side of the story and any corroborating evidence to refute the complaint. This hearing takes place either directly in front of the board or in front of an Administrative Law Judge.
- Final decision and board action. After the hearing, the board makes a decision on whether you committed the alleged offense and takes appropriate disciplinary steps, up to and including the suspension or canceling of your professional engineering license.
There may be many points in the process where the board could decide (or be convinced) to dismiss the complaint or agree to a more lenient penalty—but typically, this requires the intervention of a skilled professional license attorney who knows how to negotiate with the board.
Am I Guaranteed To Lose My PE License if the Board Finds Me in Violation?
Not necessarily. State licensing boards have a bit of latitude when it comes to imposing sanctions, many of which would allow you to keep your PE license in the long run. For example, the board might suspend your license temporarily, place restrictions on certain activities, impose fines, require restitution, mandate treatment or continuing education, or issue a formal reprimand. However, be advised that even minor disciplinary actions can appear as a negative notation on your public record, which could impact the decision of certain employers, contractors, or clients to work with you. An attorney can help you minimize the negative impact of a complaint on both your career and your license.
How Can a Professional License Defense Attorney Help Me Keep My License?
A professional license defense attorney has many potential strategies for minimizing the impact of a complaint against your license. An experienced attorney can help strategize on the best way for you to respond to allegations, negotiate with the licensing board either for a dismissal of the complaint or more lenient sanctions, defend you vigorously in formal hearings, and even help get your PE license reinstated if it has already been suspended or revoked.
Although being accused of wrongdoing or incompetency is scary and demoralizing to any professional engineer, it does not have to mean the end of your career. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has an extensive track record of success in helping PEs and other licensed professionals avoid losing their licenses and, by extension, their livelihoods. To learn more about how we can help, contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today.