As a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP), your livelihood hinges on your professional license. That license has been hard-earned, to say the least. To obtain it, you had to invest years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars earning your master's degree, spend hundreds of hours in clinical practice, pass a grueling Praxis exam, and gotten ASHA-certified. Suffice it to say, it's a serious crisis if your credentials come under investigation by the state licensing board over allegations of wrongdoing. Your entire career could hang in the balance over one misstep or misunderstanding. And unlike criminal investigations, the licensing board doesn't even have to prove your guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” because their priority is safeguarding the public trust, not fairness.
At times like these, it's critical to have an experienced professional license defense lawyer on your side when your license comes into question. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has years of experience helping licensed professionals protect their credentials in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. If you are an SLP facing a disciplinary investigation, the following information should help you prepare for what's ahead.
What Board or Agency Processes Complaints Against My Professional License?
The state board that licensed you as an SLP is also responsible for investigating complaints and imposing disciplinary actions related to your license. For example, if you are licensed to practice in New Jersey, you would answer to the Audiology and Speech–Language Pathology Advisory Committee. In Pennsylvania, it is the State Board of Examiners for Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology. In New York, it's the Speech–Language Pathology & Audiology Division of the Office of the Professions.
What Are the Possible Accusations That Could Lead To Me Losing My License as an SLP?
Most claims against speech-language pathologists that could cost them their license are based upon a violation of the standards for professional conduct and/or the violation of public trust. Some examples of violations that could jeopardize your SLP license include:
- Fraud/misrepresentation. For example, if you overcharge patients, commit insurance fraud, misrepresent your credentials, or publish false advertisements.
- Substance abuse. Drug and alcohol abuse are held suspect with state licensing boards because they could affect your ability to treat patients safely.
- Criminal convictions. Your license may be at risk if you are convicted of certain offenses, particularly crimes of moral turpitude. Additionally, if you fail to report a criminal conviction, either when applying for a license or after you've obtained it, this could be grounds for suspending or revoking your license.
- Incompetence or gross negligence. (I.e., making serious mistakes or bad calls that endanger patients or do them harm.)
- Sexual misconduct. This category includes sexual harassment or assault of colleagues or patients, as well as engaging in unethical romantic entanglements with patients.
What Is the Disciplinary Process When My SLP License Is in Jeopardy?
Most disciplinary actions begin when someone files a complaint against you with the state licensing board. Each state has its own variations on the disciplinary process, but generally speaking, you can expect the following steps to take place:
- Investigation. The board must delve into the allegations to determine whether there is any evidence to support them. You may be asked to provide a written response to the complaint, and the board may also subpoena documentation and interview witnesses.
- Consent decree. The licensing board might offer to waive a hearing in return for having you sign a consent decree. This is a formal agreement between the state and you in which you acknowledge wrongdoing and voluntarily submit to disciplinary action. Consent decrees are typically offered when the evidence against you is substantial.
- Formal hearing. In the absence of a consent decree, you'll be summoned to a formal hearing to answer the complaint against you and provide your defense. The hearing may be held before the board or before an Administrative Law Judge.
- Final determination. The board will make a final decision about your guilt or innocence and determine the appropriate sanctions or penalties.
If the board doesn't find enough evidence to support the complaint, they may opt to dismiss the charges at any point in the process. A good professional license attorney may also be able to negotiate for lesser penalties based on extenuating circumstances or to have certain evidence barred from consideration.
Am I Guaranteed To Lose My SLP License if the Board Determines I Am at Fault?
No. Granted, the board may opt to suspend or revoke a speech-language pathologist license for even minor offenses—but in many cases, they can be swayed to impose lesser sanctions such as fines, restrictions on activities, mandatory continuing education, probation, or a formal reprimand. Bear in mind, however, that any disciplinary action (no matter how minor) may appear on your public record where potential employers or patients may see them. That's why it's beneficial to hire an experienced attorney even if the charges seem to be minor because a good attorney can work to minimize the damage to your license and your record, as well as your reputation.
What Can an Attorney Do for Me if My SLP License Is at Risk?
An experienced professional license defense attorney can greatly improve the chances of a favorable outcome—one that enables you to keep your license. Your attorney will:
- Make sure you understand the nature of the complaint, what is at stake, and how to defend yourself effectively.
- Represent you in all interactions with the licensing board.
- Collect evidence and witnesses to support your defense and/or disprove the complaint.
- Negotiate with the board for the dismissal of your complaint, the disallowance of certain evidence, and/or agreeing to lesser sanctions that will let you keep your license.
- Assist with getting your license reinstated (if it has already been suspended or revoked).
Because being a licensed speech-language pathologist depends on the public trust, any complaint filed against you could put that license at risk—even if the complaint is unfounded or unfair. You've worked too hard to establish your career to risk it by going into the process uninformed or unprepared. If you don't have strong legal representation, even minor offenses can still affect your ability to practice. Hiring a professional license defense attorney like Joseph D. Lento is your best chance at protecting your career. To learn more, call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 today.