As a licensed and/or certified substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor in New York, you've built a solid career based on helping others. This noble profession has required a significant investment in time and money. However, your entire career now hinges on your professional license, and a single complaint or allegation of wrongdoing can jeopardize everything you've worked for.
Whether the complaint arises from a misunderstanding, a lapse in judgment, or a pure falsehood, the New York State Office of the Professions (OP) must take the complaint seriously and investigate it thoroughly. If they find merit in the complaint, they will bring disciplinary charges against you, potentially resulting in the suspension or revocation of your license.
Your best chance of avoiding this negative outcome is to hire a New York professional license defense attorney. The sooner you retain an attorney, the better your chances of protecting your license, your certification, and your career. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his experienced License Defense Team have the experience needed to guide you through these challenging circumstances. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to discuss your case and your options.
What Kinds of Allegations Could Put My License/Certification Under Scrutiny?
Most allegations of wrongdoing that result in disciplinary action against substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors involve violations of the state's standards of ethics and/or breaches of the public trust. Such violations may include, but are not limited to:
- Substance abuse: An active addiction to drugs or alcohol naturally disqualifies you from helping others in this area.
- Sexual misconduct: Engaging in romantic or sexual relationships with clients is a huge breach of ethics and will likely result in license revocation. Other examples of sexual misconduct include sexual harassment, inappropriate touching, and unwanted sexual advances.
- Dual relationships: Maintaining other types of relationships with clients beyond the counselor-client relationship (e.g., financial or familial) is considered unethical and could lead to license loss.
- Fraud: This can involve overbilling or up-charging insurance, overcharging clients, and other fraudulent activities.
- Record-keeping/confidentiality violations: Counselor-client confidentiality is a sacred trust, and violating it is obvious grounds for discipline. Your license may be at risk if you disclose confidential client information, whether intentionally or not.
- Acting outside your qualifications: Your counseling license/certification permits you to work within specific guidelines. Providing therapy or treatment beyond these guidelines could result in license revocation.
What Is the Disciplinary Process for Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors?
Anyone in New York can file a complaint against a licensed professional through the standardized system created by the state. Complaints against substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors typically originate from patients/clients, coworkers, colleagues, or insurance companies. Once the OP receives a complaint, the disciplinary process proceeds through the following stages:
Initially, the OP will investigate to determine whether any evidence supports the complaint's allegations. This may involve interviews with the complainant and witnesses, document subpoenas, or other fact-finding methods. If insufficient evidence of wrongdoing is found, the OP may drop the complaint; if supporting evidence is discovered, the matter will be referred to the NYS Department of Education's Board of Regents for further review.
If the Board finds enough evidence to bring formal disciplinary charges against you, they may offer you the chance to sign a consent order as an alternative to a hearing. This is an agreement between you and the state in which you admit to the alleged misconduct and agree to specific conditions, such as surrendering your license or being placed on probation. Although this may seem like the best option, you should always consult 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 determine 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 full revocation of your license or certification.
How an Experienced License Defense Attorney Can Help
You may be tempted to navigate the disciplinary process on your own, but keep in mind that the OP and Board of Regents' primary responsibility is to protect the public, not the licensee. You basically have 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 impose disciplinary action. Without an attorney to help you, you are at a disadvantage from the moment someone files a complaint.
In contrast, an experienced professional license defense attorney can significantly improve your chances 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 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 retaining your license or certification increase considerably with a skilled attorney on your side.
If you are a licensed substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor in New York and 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, or use our online form.