Professional and trade licenses are a valuable investment. They represent validation by the state that you have demonstrated a certain level of competence and experience in your field and that you conform to the standards of conduct established for your profession. As such, these credentials convey a sense of trust to the people who hire you.
Your license or certification is essential to your success, your income, and your livelihood. So, when a complaint or allegation of misconduct or competence threatens your credentials, it throws your life into disarray. What if you are suspended or fined, or worse yet, lose your license? What kind of impact could these actions have on your career?
If your license or certification is being threatened, you cannot afford not to take this threat to your livelihood seriously. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced license defense attorney in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. And he can help you reach the best resolution possible.
His team at the Lento Law Firm has compiled key information to help you be better informed about the threats to your licensure or certification. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about defending your license or certification.
What happens if I lose my license or certification?
Having your credentials revoked is like the rug being pulled out from under you. It can leave you struggling to regain your professional footing. Here are some ways how losing your business credentials can impact you:
- Loss of reputation. When you go into business for yourself, your name is your reputation. Even if your credentials are reinstated, in some cases, disciplinary actions become a matter of public record. That means anyone can access the information. Even one small blemish can tarnish your credibility and hurt your business.
- Loss of income. Without a license, you may no longer have the right to work in your field or receive severance or unemployment benefits.
- Difficulty finding other work. In some cases, you may be able to find work within your field that doesn't require a license. But it may be difficult getting a job with a revoked license on your record.
- Challenges with getting reinstated. It could take years and a lot of hoop-jumping to get your license reinstated. And even then, there is a chance it may not be reinstated.
Are there other disciplinary actions that I could face if I don't lose my license or certification?
If you are found guilty of a violation, you may not necessarily lose your license or certification. But you could face other forms of punishment based on the severity of the offense. Some disciplinary actions taken by licensing agencies or certification boards include:
- License suspension. You could be restricted from working for a certain length of time.
- Fines. You may face a monetary fine, which could be steep.
- Probation. You may be allowed to operate your business but in a more restricted capacity or under close monitoring by the board for a period of time.
- Limitations on licensure/operational restrictions. You may be allowed to operate your business but be restricted to certain activities or conditions.
- Continuing education. If there is a concern as to your level of training, you may be asked to take a continuing education course.
- Audit. You may be required to provide records of your employment and services rendered.
- Mandatory treatment. You may be required to attend a treatment program in situations involving substance abuse.
- Verbal or written warning. For lesser offenses, you may be issued a verbal or written warning. This could appear on your public record for others to see.
Can these penalties still hurt my career even if I get to keep my license?
Indeed, they can. Any disciplinary action taken against you by the board is a matter of public record, which means anyone can look up your record and see whether you've been disciplined. This can tarnish your business reputation and hurt your chances of being hired. A good license defense attorney can improve your chances of avoiding penalties and keep your record—and your business reputation—as clean as possible.
What accusations can threaten my license or certification?
The threats to your credentials vary depending on your line of work. Here are some common examples:
- Acting outside the scope of your license. Depending on your line of work and the state you live in, your license may have certain limitations that you are expected to abide by. Working outside the parameters of what you're licensed to do could jeopardize your license.
- Permitting an unlicensed worker to perform licensed work. Allowing an employee to do work they are not licensed for or qualified to do puts your license at risk.
- Negligence and/or incompetence. Failing to measure up to the standards of your profession or treating clients poorly could land you in hot water with the licensing board.
- Sexual misconduct. Complaints of rape, sexual abuse, or other forms of sexual misconduct with a client or customer are serious and can cost you your license.
- Fraudulent activity. Examples include dishonest dealings with colleagues or clients, misrepresenting your credentials, false advertising, falsifying records, overbilling, or defrauding insurance companies.
- Unsafe facilities. Operating in a facility that is deemed unsafe not only puts you, your workers, and your customers at risk, it also jeopardizes your license.
- Failing an inspection. If your business license requires your facility to undergo regular inspections by the regulatory board, failing an inspection could spell trouble.
- Failing to pay fines. If you fail to pay fines for civil penalties for prior violations, you could face losing your license.
Can something I do outside work threaten my license?
In some cases, missteps in your personal life can affect your work and put your license in jeopardy. Here are some common examples:
- Substance abuse. If alcohol or drug abuse interferes with your ability to do your work, or if you are arrested for driving under the influence, your license may be threatened.
- Conviction of a “disqualifying crime.” For example, if you had to pass a criminal background check in order to qualify for your license, and you are later convicted of a felony or violent misdemeanor crime, you face possible licensure disqualification.
What is a licensing board's process for investigating complaints?
Most licensing boards have the power to work independently. But most inquiries begin with a complaint. While processes may vary slightly from state to state, boards generally follow a similar process. In most cases, the following steps are taken:
- Complaint. The board reviews complaints it received and decides whether an investigation is warranted.
- Investigation. During an investigation, the board reviews the evidence and speaks with the complainant to determine whether the allegation occurred. You may be called on to respond to the allegations and provide statements and evidence to support your case.
- Notice of infraction. If the board determines that the violation you are accused of did, in fact, occur, you will receive a written notice of infraction. This notice usually includes a list of sanctions as well. The board's decision is final unless you request a hearing before the given deadline.
- Hearing. If you decide to challenge the board's decision, your case will move to a formal hearing. This will occur in a legal setting. Just as you do in a civil or criminal case, you have the right to defend yourself. However, as in civil or criminal court, this is usually not a good idea. During your hearing, you will have the opportunity to call witnesses, give testimony, and present evidence. The board will then make a determination based on the evidence presented and hand down sanctions if warranted.
- Appeal. If you disagree with the board's decision, you still have the opportunity to challenge that response by appealing on certain grounds within a set timeframe. An experienced attorney knowledgeable in license defense can assist you in challenging a board's decision.
What should I do if I receive notice from a licensing board that a complaint has been submitted against me or that I am under investigation?
Receiving notice of a complaint or investigation can be traumatizing, and you may be tempted to respond quickly and emotionally. But by trying to plead your own case, you may inadvertently say things that hurt your case. Before you act, take a deep breath and prepare yourself. Here are some ways to get your head in the game:
- Try not to take offense at the notice. The board is charged with investigating complaints and getting to the bottom of the matter.
- Do take the notice seriously and respond promptly.
- Gather all information needed to make your case.
- Contact an attorney experienced in defending professional licenses. A good attorney can help navigate you through the process, be your legal representative in all interactions with the board, and help secure the best possible outcome. In most cases, these matters can be resolved without a hearing.
Information to keep in mind when preparing your response to the board's inquiry include:
- Acknowledge the board's responsibility to the public and to the trade to investigate complaints, and express your willingness to cooperate with the process.
- Address the facts and allegations directly. If necessary, provide material to support your case.
- If the complaint is groundless, explain why and seek dismissal.
- If you are in the wrong, accept responsibility. Explain how it happened and express a willingness to learn from your missteps.
What happens during an investigation?
The board investigates complaints to determine whether there is enough evidence to support a claim. An investigation can take months to complete, during which the board may:
- Inform you of a complaint against you.
- Contact the complainant for more details about the alleged offense.
- As you to provide a written response to the complaint.
- Ask you for any additional information to support your response.
- Interview witnesses, if applicable.
- Send a representative to investigate an area or question individuals.
- Request or subpoena information that may be relevant to the case.
What types of workers can a licensure defense attorney help?
The Lento Law Firm helps workers in many fields when their licenses or certifications come under threat due to alleged misconduct or other issues. Some professions and trades we serve include, but are not limited to:
- Athletic trainers
- Building inspectors
- Daycare providers
- EMTs and paramedics
- Insurance agents
- Real estate agent
- …and more!
What do I do if an investigator from the licensing board shows up at my home or work?
Any interaction with an investigator can be used against you, so it is strongly recommended that you do not talk with them or let them look around your place of work. You have the right to legal counsel any time you interact with the board, including when an investigator comes to your home or work. If an inspector shows up at your home or place of work, as for their contact information, and tell them your attorney will be in touch.
Will I be able to work while I am under investigation?
It depends. If your offense isn't severe, and your employer is OK with it, you are legally allowed to continue working until your case has been resolved. However, if the complaint against you is severe, the board may issue an emergency suspension of your license. This will force you to stop working immediately until the issue reaches a conclusion.
Do I have to disclose that my license is under investigation?
You are under no legal obligation to talk about the investigation to colleagues or customers. However, if you work for a firm or agency that requires you to disclose this type of information as part of the terms of your employment, then yes, you will have to inform them.
Why shouldn't I represent myself?
If your licensing board notifies you that they are investigating a complaint against you, or informs you that a hearing has been scheduled, you have the right to represent your own interests. It may be tempting to speak on your own behalf. But, in most situations, this is a bad idea. Here's why:
- Defending your license is a legal matter. The licensing board is an agent of the state. If a hearing is called, it will take place in a legal setting. And while you have the right to represent yourself, attempting to do so to the board is like representing yourself in a civil or criminal lawsuit. It just isn't a good idea. A professional license attorney is skilled in matters of the law to get you the best possible outcome.
- The board has its own agenda. The licensing board is not there to protect you. They are charged with protecting the public from people in your profession who break the rules. The board has the power to revoke or suspend your license if they deem it necessary. Regardless of how accommodating they may be, it is important that you act professionally. A professional license defense attorney can protect you from making any incriminating statements or doing anything that may jeopardize your case.
- It's just not worth the risk. When your license is on the line, so is your career, your livelihood, your income, and your good name. Having an experienced attorney by your side gives you confidence and peace of mind that the best possible outcome will be obtained.
What if I refuse to respond to the complaint or cooperate with the investigation?
Failing to cooperate with an investigation is always a bad idea. The board will likely see this as an admission of guilt and unilaterally decide to revoke your license.
Why do I need a license defense attorney?
It's in your best interest to have legal representation when you are defending your license or certification, even if your offense appears minor. Here's why:
- Offenses that appear minor to you, may not be so minor in the board's eyes.
- Even minor offenses on your public record can tarnish your business reputation.
Arming yourself with a license defense attorney improves your chances of having the complaint against you dismissed and protects your name and your business.
Won't hiring a license defense attorney make me look guilty?
Not at all. Hiring an attorney doesn't influence the board's presumption of guilt or innocence. But it does show the board that you are taking the matter seriously enough to hire an attorney and come prepared to defend yourself, your business, and your good name.
What can a license defense attorney do for me that I can't do for myself?
A good attorney experienced in license defense can guide you through a board investigation and improve your chances for a favorable outcome. Here's what you can expect your attorney to do for you:
- Review the complaint and give you a clear understanding of what is at stake.
- Act as your legal representative in all interactions with the board.
- Argue your case before the licensing board and/or a judge in a formal hearing.
- Advise you on the best strategy when responding to claims
- Compile evidence and gather witnesses to help prove your case.
- Negotiate for dismissal or for reduced penalties and the best possible outcome.
- File an appeal.
- Dispute or appeal or unjust fines.
What if my license has been revoked or suspended? Can a license defense attorney help me get my license reinstated?
Absolutely. Most state licensing boards have reinstatement processes. An experienced license defense attorney can help you navigate through the process. Some steps that may be required of you from the board could include:
- Formally petitioning the board to reinstate or reactivate your license.
- Submitting a written request to be reinstated.
- Paying any fees you owe.
- Submitting a work history or work you did or jobs you held while your license was inactive.
- Fulfilling any conditions required by the board, such as completing additional training or attending a treatment program.
- Agreeing to any other terms for reinstatement set forth by the board.
A license defense attorney can assist you through the process by:
- Coordinating the filing of paperwork and fees
- Following up with the board on your reinstatement status
- Helping you craft a compelling argument for reinstatement
- Negotiating the best terms for any prescribed action plan
How soon should I hire an attorney after being notified of a complaint against my license or certification?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when faced with a threat to your license or certification is waiting until you are summoned to a formal hearing before hiring an attorney. In doing so, you lose valuable preparation time. Meanwhile, the board is developing a case against you. By hiring a good license defense attorney at the beginning of the process—immediately after you are made aware of the threat—you have more time to build a stronger defense. In many cases, your attorney can resolve the complaint before it even gets to the hearing stage.
Why should I hire the Lento Law Firm?
Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm provides professional and effective representation for clients facing threats to their licensure or certification. If your license or certification is in jeopardy, every minute counts. Don't waste precious time.
Joseph D. Lento has helped many clients save their professional licenses from suspension and revocation. He understands the inner workings of the regulatory boards in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. And he can help you negotiate the process to the best possible outcome for your situation. Don't waste precious time. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686.