Becoming a licensed security guard is no easy feat. It requires going through a state-approved training program, physical and psychological examinations, and passing a number of other qualifications to be licensed as a security guard in your state. If you're seeking a position as an armed security guard (versus unarmed), the process is even stricter. Suffice it to say once you've become a licensed security guard, there's a lot riding on your license. And all it may take is one allegation of wrongdoing to upend your career.
Perhaps it was a misunderstanding with a client or a visitor to the building. Perhaps it was a lapse in judgment or a misstep. Whatever the case, security guards hold a high level of public trust, and if the state believes that trust has been violated, it may impose disciplinary action against you, possibly even revoking your license.
To save your career in this kind of situation, you need a professional license defense lawyer on your side who understands the intricacies of security guard licensing in your state and can help you navigate the process while protecting your rights. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience helping licensed professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York who are dealing with threats against their licenses. If you have come under scrutiny or investigation over alleged wrongdoing, the following Q&A should help you make informed decisions about your future.
Who will I answer to if someone files a complaint against me?
If you're accused of misconduct, the same state licensing agency that gave your security guard's license will oversee the disciplinary process. In both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, for example, you would answer to the Superintendent of the State Police Department for that state. In New York, it's the Department of State.
What offenses could cause me to lose my security guard license?
Every state has statutes in place dictating policies and procedures for licensed security personnel in that state. Most offenses that would result in losing your license involve violating that code in some way or otherwise breaking the public trust. Common examples of these offenses include, but are not limited to:
- Sexual misconduct, harassment, or abuse. If you engage in any type of sexual misconduct or abuse while on duty as a security guard (e.g., with coworkers, visitors, or people you're supposed to protect), you can expect to lose your license.
- Excessive force/abuse of authority. If you exert undue force against someone in the line of duty or otherwise violate their civil rights, your license will likely be revoked.
- Employing unlicensed security guards. It is illegal for a security agency to hire someone as a security guard who is not licensed in that state. If you're caught doing this, your own license will be at risk.
- Theft or embezzlement. Obviously, if you're caught stealing from the company or clients you're supposed to be protecting, you will no longer be allowed to work as a security guard.
- Criminal convictions. Being convicted of criminal activity typically disqualifies you from holding a security guard license.
- Falsifying information. If you apply for a security guard license based on false information on your application, your license may be revoked if the truth comes out.
- Substance abuse/addiction. If you struggle with addiction and it affects your job performance or leads you to engage in criminal activity, your license will be at risk.
What does the disciplinary process look like?
Although each state outlines specific procedures for disciplinary actions against licensed security guards, the overall process usually follows a similar path in every state. Here's a general overview:
- Complaint. The disciplinary process typically begins when someone files a formal complaint against you--whether it's an employer, a coworker, a civilian, or an alleged victim of your misconduct.
- Review. The complaint will be reviewed by the agency to determine whether it is genuine, credible, and within its authority.
- Investigation. The agency will open an inquiry to determine if the allegations are supported by evidence. An investigator may be appointed to look into the matter and gather evidence, witnesses may be interviewed, and documents may be subpoenaed. If the investigator can't find significant evidence to back the complaint, the matter may be dropped at that point.
- Consent order. In some states, the licensing agency might offer to have you sign a consent order as an alternative to calling a disciplinary hearing. This typically happens if there is abundant evidence to support the complaint. The consent order is a binding agreement in which you admit to wrongdoing and voluntarily submit to the recommended disciplinary action.
- Disciplinary hearing. You may be summoned to appear at a disciplinary hearing to give cause as to why your security guard's license should not be revoked. You may have an attorney represent you at this hearing.
- Final determination and action. After the hearing ends, the superintendent or agency will make a final decision as to what disciplinary action(s) to invoke against you, up to and including the loss of your license.
A qualified professional license defense attorney will be able to guide you through every step of this process, greatly increasing your chances of a favorable outcome. Depending on the situation, the attorney may be able to negotiate for dismissal of the complaint or convince the authorities to impose a lighter penalty against you.
Is it possible to keep my security guard license even if I'm found guilty of misconduct?
Yes, it's possible. Not all disciplinary actions result in your license being revoked. The state can, at its discretion, impose other, lesser penalties depending on the circumstances, thereby allowing you to keep your license. Examples include:
- Suspension. Your license may be temporarily suspended by the agency until certain conditions have been met, in which case it may be reinstated.
- Fines. The agency could penalize you financially.
- License restrictions. The state may place limitations on the functions you're allowed to perform as a security guard.
- Formal reprimand. For minor offenses, the state may simply issue a formal reprimand.
Can these lesser penalties still harm my career as a security guard?
Yes. Keep in mind that even if you are allowed to keep your license, any disciplinary actions will likely still become a matter of public record. Potential clients, coworkers, and employers may search your license to find out if there have been any disciplinary actions against you. This could impact their willingness to work with you or hire you. To reduce the risk of this happening, consider hiring an experienced professional license defense attorney to help you navigate the disciplinary process.
Why is it important to hire an attorney to defend my license? Can I just resolve the issue myself?
It's generally not a good idea to try to defend your security guard license on your own. The disciplinary process can be complicated, and the consequences of losing your license can be significant. An experienced professional license defense attorney will understand the law and procedures involved in these cases and will be able to aggressively defend your rights and interests. In many cases, an attorney may be able to get the complaint against you dismissed. Even if that's not possible, an attorney may be able to negotiate for a lighter penalty that won't have as great an impact on your career.
What will a license defense attorney do to rescue my career?
An experienced attorney can significantly improve your chances of making it through the professional license discipline process with your credentials intact. These are just a few examples of how an attorney can assist you:
- Review the complaint against you and help you understand its possible impact on your career
- Act as your legal representative when interacting with the state in matters regarding your license
- Develop a defense strategy designed to get you the best possible result
- Gather evidence and witnesses to support your defense
- Negotiate at several points to resolve the matter in your best interest, including dismissal of the complaint, reduced penalties, or a consent order with favorable terms
- Defend you at a formal disciplinary hearing (if the matter proceeds that far)
Do I still need an attorney if I'm being told this is a minor violation?
Considering that the superintendent of state police can revoke your license over any offense, it's not a good idea to think of any complaint or violation as "minor." Also, remember that even lesser penalties can show up as bad marks on your professional record. Therefore, it's always in your best interest to have an experienced professional license defense attorney on your side to help you navigate the process and protect your interests. If the complaint is indeed minor, having an attorney can make the difference between having the complaint dismissed and getting a negative mark on your record. It's typically worth hiring an attorney if it can keep your record clean.
My security guard license has already been suspended or revoked. Can the attorney assist me in getting it reinstated?
It depends on both the severity of the offense and the laws of your state. For serious offenses such as criminal convictions or sexual misconduct, it's less likely that the state (or any other state) will permit you to serve as a security guard in the future. However, in other instances (for example, if you lost your license over substance abuse and went through an approved treatment program), some states might provide a path to reinstatement. If this is the case, you may have to do any/all of the following:
- Submit a written request explaining why you are asking for reinstatement and why you should be given consideration
- Provide a detailed work history detailing every job you've held while your license was inactive
- Provide proof that you have fulfilled any prior conditions required to get your license reinstated (for example, completing an approved treatment program)
- Agree to any action plan the state may put in place to get your license reinstated
If reinstatement is a possibility, having a license defense attorney coordinate your application gives you the best chance for success. Your attorney can interface with the state agency regarding your application status, make sure fees are paid, and negotiate for the best possible terms for restatement.
I've been notified of a complaint against my security guard license. When should I get an attorney?
You should hire an attorney at the first indication that a complaint has been filed. The sooner you take action, the more time you give your lawyer to study your case and prepare a compelling response to the complaint. If you wait until you're summoned to a disciplinary hearing to hire an attorney, you will be going into the hearing at a disadvantage because the state will effectively have already made its case against you. By contrast, hiring an attorney sooner can allow more room for negotiation early in the process, so a hearing may not even be necessary.
As a certified security guard, your livelihood is dependent on your license. Don't risk losing your career because of an accusation of wrongdoing. Many licensed professionals have benefited from Joseph D. Lento's experience in navigating the disciplinary process. Quick action can effectively improve your chances for a favorable resolution. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to see how we can help.