As a licensed social worker in New York (either an LCSW or LMSW), you've built a career based on helping people. It's a noble profession and one you've paid a high price in time and money to achieve. The irony is that your entire career now hinges on your professional license, and all you've worked for could be jeopardized by a single complaint or allegation of wrongdoing.
Whether the complaint is due to a misunderstanding, a lapse in judgment or an outright lie, the New York State Office of the Professions (OP) has an obligation to take the complaint seriously and investigate it thoroughly. If they find merit in the complaint, they will bring disciplinary charges against you, and your license could be suspended or revoked.
Your best chance to avoid this terrible outcome is to hire a New York professional license defense attorney. The sooner you retain an attorney, the better chance you have of protecting your social worker's license. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has the experience needed to help you navigate these treacherous waters. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to discuss your case and your options.
What Accusations Can Result in a Social Worker Losing Their License in New York?
The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) has a uniform set of standards and practices by which licensed social workers should abide. All state licensing boards adhere to these standards, including the NYS Office of the Professions. Most allegations that could put your license in jeopardy involve some violation of these standards. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Unprofessional conduct. "Unprofessional" can refer to anything from unscrupulous business practices to mistreating patients/clients.
- Sexual misconduct. Engaging in a romantic/sexual relationship with a patient/client is a huge ethical violation that could cost you your license. Other types of sexual misconduct include sexual assault, sexual harassment, or unwanted sexual advances toward patients, colleagues, or coworkers.
- Fraud. Common examples of fraud include billing clients or insurance for services you never rendered or misrepresenting your qualifications.
- Acting outside the scope of your license. If you provide services that you are not licensed to provide, or if you practice beyond the limits of your license (for example, prescribing medication without a medical license), this could be reason enough for the OP to seek disciplinary action.
- Substance abuse. If you have a drinking problem or abuse illegal or prescription drugs, this could jeopardize your ability to practice social work.
- Criminal convictions. If you are convicted of particular crimes, especially those considered "crimes of moral turpitude," your professional license could be in danger.
What Is the Disciplinary Process for Licensed Social Workers?
Any member of the public in New York can file a complaint with the Office of the Professions against any licensed professional, including social workers, using the standardized system created by New York. Complaints against social workers are typically made by patients/clients, coworkers, colleagues, and sometimes insurance companies. Once the OP receives a complaint, the disciplinary process moves through the following stages.
To start, the OP will open an investigation to see if any evidence supports the allegations in the complaint. This might include interviews with the complainant and witnesses, document subpoenas, or other additional fact-finding methods. If there is little to no evidence of wrongdoing, the OP may drop the complaint at this point; if supporting evidence is found, however, the OP will refer the matter to the NYS Department of Education's Board of Regents for further review.
If the board has enough evidence to bring formal disciplinary charges against you, they may give you the opportunity to sign a consent order. This is an agreement between you and the state in which you admit that you committed the misconduct alleged and agree to certain conditions, such as surrendering your license or being placed on probation. While this may seem like the best option at the time, it is important to speak with a professional license defense lawyer before signing anything. Once you sign a consent order, it is final, and you will not be able to fight the charges later.
Hearing and Determination
If you do not agree to a consent order or if the board decides not to offer one, the next step is for the Board of Regents to review the complaint to decide on disciplinary action, typically by calling a formal hearing. At this hearing, you may appear with an attorney to show cause why the board should not issue disciplinary action against you. The board will then deliberate and issue a determination, which could include anything from a formal reprimand to a full revocation of your social worker's license.
How an Experienced License Defense Attorney Can Help
You may be tempted to navigate the disciplinary process on your own, but bear in mind that the job of the Office of the Professions and Board of Regents is to protect the public, not the licensee. Therefore, there is no guaranteed presumption of innocence. The state uses the "preponderance of the evidence" standard to determine whether to invoke discipline, meaning they only need to show you are 51 percent likely to have committed wrongdoing to revoke your license. Without an attorney to help you, you are at a disadvantage from the moment someone files a complaint.
Conversely, an experienced professional license defense attorney can give you the best chance of protecting your livelihood. Your lawyer will be familiar with the disciplinary process and will know what to expect at every stage. A good attorney can act as your official legal representative throughout the process, help you gather evidence and prepare for hearings, negotiate for leniency, and make strong arguments on your behalf, both during the investigative process and during any hearings. An attorney can also negotiate for the best terms in a consent order so that you may keep your license or at least have a path toward reinstatement. In short, your chances of keeping your social worker's license go up considerably with a skilled attorney in your corner.
If you are a licensed social worker in New York and you are facing an investigation from the Office of the Professions, take proactive steps now to protect your career. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 to schedule a consultation.