Becoming a licensed social worker in New Jersey is a noble career choice--and ironically, also a fragile one. After spending years developing a career in social work and helping others, one formal complaint or accusation of misconduct could delete all the progress you've made. The New Jersey State Board of Social Work Examiners prioritizes ethical and professional conduct from its licensees. Consequently, any allegations of misconduct are taken seriously and may result in severe penalties--such as revoking your license to practice.
If you are currently undergoing an investigation by the board, it is crucial that you seek out qualified legal counsel to help defend your professional license. An experienced license defense attorney will be familiar with the process and can help ensure that your rights are protected throughout the investigation. With extensive experience defending professionals against misconduct claims, Attorney Joseph D. Lento has a track record of getting positive outcomes for his clients. If you're a New Jersey social worker and your license is in danger, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to discuss your case.
Types of Accusations that Could Jeopardize Your Social Worker License
The New Jersey State Board of Social Work Examiners holds its licensees to the standards of practice developed by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). The most common allegations that could jeopardize your license will involve some breach of these standards or a violation of public trust. Common examples include, but are not limited to:
- Unprofessional conduct. Being "unprofessional" can include behaviors ranging from less-than-ethical business practices to maltreatment of patients.
- Fraud. For example, billing patients or insurance for services not provided, "upcoding" insurance claims for more money, altering patient records, misrepresenting your credentials, etc.
- Gross immorality. Sexual harassment, making unwanted sexual advances, or having inappropriate relationships with colleagues or patients are all highly immoral behaviors that could result in you losing your professional license.
- Acting outside the scope of your license. Your professional license could be suspended or revoked if you are caught providing services outside of your scope of practice.
- Criminal convictions. Being convicted of certain crimes, especially crimes of moral turpitude may disqualify you from holding a social worker license.
- Substance abuse. The board has the authority to suspend or revoke your license if they find that you have an addiction to alcohol or drugs, which could affect your ability to make sound decisions or help others.
What Does the Disciplinary Process Look Like?
In New Jersey, most disciplinary actions against licensed social workers begin with a complaint filed against the social worker with the State Board of Social Work Examiners. Anyone who has a grievance with your work could be considered a complainant. This might include patients, colleagues, or other members of the public. Once the complaint has been filed, the disciplinary process moves forward in the following stages.
Request for Response
The board will contact you to inform you about the complaint lodged against you and ask that you respond in writing. If your response is convincing and supported by evidence, the board may decide not to take any further action on the complaint. An experienced license defense attorney can help draft a compelling written response.
The next step is for the board to send the complaint to a Preliminary Evaluation Committee (PEC) for review. After receiving a complaint, the PEC will appoint an investigator to determine if evidence supports the claim. The process usually involves interviewing the complainant and any witnesses, requesting official documentation, and so on. In some cases, you may also need to testify under oath in front of the PEC.
If the board finds enough evidence to warrant disciplinary action, they might offer to negotiate a consent order with you rather than hold a formal hearing. A consent order is an agreement in which you agree to follow the board's recommendations for discipline; this contract is legally binding. While a consent order might not work for everyone, if there's strong evidence against you and the agreement allows you to keep or get your license back, it could be the best solution.
The case will go to a formal hearing if you and the board cannot agree on a consent order. This is similar to a trial in which both sides present evidence and make their case before an Administrative Law judge. You may have an attorney with you at this hearing to present arguments and evidence on your behalf. If the ALJ decides that the evidence collected is persuasive enough, they will recommend disciplinary action to the board. The board has the authority to revoke your social worker's license if they deem the disciplinary infraction warrants it.
Why You Need a New Jersey Professional License Defense Attorney
The disciplinary process for licensed social workers in New Jersey is long and complicated, and there is no guaranteed presumption of innocence. The State Board of Social Work Examiners has the job of protecting the public against bad actors, and they have sweeping authority to administer discipline against their licensees based only on a preponderance of the evidence. Without an attorney to protect your interests, you're going into the process at a decided disadvantage. In fact, the likelihood of losing your license is much greater without an attorney than with one.
When you hire an attorney with specific knowledge of license defense, you're getting an advocate who knows how to navigate the system and build a strong defense on your behalf. They will be able to help you understand the evidence against you and develop a strategy for responding that gives you the best possible chance of keeping your license. Your attorney can:
- Act as your official legal representative in all interactions with the Board or the ALJ.
- Gather evidence and witnesses to support your case.
- Draft a convincing written response to the complaint (which may end the disciplinary process then and there).
- Negotiate at multiple points for the dismissal of the complaint or for lighter penalties that allow you to keep your license.
- Negotiate for the best possible terms in a consent order.
- Defend you vigorously at a formal hearing, if necessary.
You've worked long and hard to develop your career as a social worker. Don't risk losing your livelihood by going through the disciplinary process alone. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many licensed professionals in your situation, and he will bring his knowledge and experience to the table to ensure you have the best chance of a favorable outcome. Call the Lento Law Firm today for a consultation at (888) 535-3686.