By the time you become licensed as a social worker in Pennsylvania (either as an LSW or a LCSW), you've already made a huge investment into your career. Not only is there the time and money spent on up to 6 years of schooling, but there are also the thousands of hours of field experience you've spent under another social worker. Now, finally, you have your license, and you're engaged in a rewarding career based on helping people.
Until it all unravels with a complaint against your license.
Your license is the key to your livelihood--in essence, it's your most prized possession. But all it may take is a single allegation of wrongdoing to cast your future into doubt. The Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors takes all complaints seriously and has the authority to revoke your license based only on a preponderance of the evidence against you. That's why it's crucial to hire an experienced Pennsylvania license defense attorney at the first sign of trouble.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has years of experience defending licensed professionals against allegations of wrongdoing in Pennsylvania. He knows how to put together a strong defense and will work to obtain the best possible outcome in your case. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to discuss your options.
What Allegations Could Put My Social Worker License in Jeopardy in Pennsylvania?
The State of Pennsylvania holds its licensed social workers to the professional and ethical standards of practice set forth by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). This nonprofit organization helps set uniform examinations and licensing standards for social workers nationwide. Most offenses that could jeopardize a social worker's license will involve some violation of these standards or the public trust in general. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Unprofessional conduct. "Unprofessional" encompasses a wide range of activities, from questionable business practices to patient mistreatment.
- Fraud. Examples include fraudulently billing insurance for your services, misrepresenting your credentials, etc.
- Acting outside the scope of your license. If you are accused of attempting to provide services that you are not licensed or trained to provide, your license could be in jeopardy.
- Criminal convictions. If you are convicted of particular crimes, your professional license could be in danger, especially if the crime is considered unethical or morally wrong.
- Substance abuse. The board may suspend or revoke your license if you have an addiction to alcohol or drugs that could impair your judgment or ability to help others effectively.
- Gross immorality. Some highly immoral behaviors, such as sexual harassment or having inappropriate relationships with colleagues or patients, can result in losing your license.
What Does the License Disciplinary Process Look Like in Pennsylvania?
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has simplified the process of filing complaints against licensed professionals in the state, including LSWs and LCSWs. The Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs (BPOA) handles and investigates all such complaints. Any member of the public can file a complaint, but in most cases, complainants against social workers are patients/former patients, coworkers, other practitioners, etc. Once the complaint has been filed with the BPOA, the process moves forward in the following stages.
The BPOA begins the process by appointing an investigator from the Bureau of Enforcement and Investigation (BEI) to look into the complaint. The BPOA may also ask you to respond in writing to the complaint. The BEI investigator will interview the complainant, any witnesses, subpoena any related documents, etc. If insufficient evidence is found to support the complaint, the case is closed at this point; otherwise, it moves ahead to the next stage.
The board might attempt to negotiate a consent agreement with you as an alternative to a formal hearing, especially if the evidence against you is compelling and disciplinary action is likely. A consent agreement is a formal binding agreement between you and the state in which you voluntarily submit to whatever disciplinary action is decided by the board. Signing a consent agreement is not always the best option, especially if you can provide evidence to refute the complaint, but in some cases, a good attorney can work it to your advantage by negotiating for terms within the agreement that allow you to keep your license--or at least provide a path for reinstatement. We advise against signing any consent agreement without having an attorney review it.
If no consent agreement is signed, the next stage is to summon you to a formal hearing in front of a state examiner. At this hearing, for which you may have an attorney present, you will be asked to show cause why your social worker's license should not be revoked. The board will then make a final decision regarding disciplinary actions, which may be as mild as a formal reprimand, or as severe as suspending or revoking your license.
Why Should You Hire a Pennsylvania License Defense Attorney?
In license defense cases in Pennsylvania, there is no presumption of innocence if you're accused of wrongdoing. The Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors acts more like a prosecutor than a judge in these cases because the board is responsible for protecting the public, first and foremost. That means they're actively looking for evidence against you, and they have a low burden of proof to decide whether disciplinary action is necessary. This puts you at a disadvantage from the moment a complaint is filed against you.
Having an attorney on your side who knows the ins and outs of the Pennsylvania licensing process and has experience defending against accusations of misconduct can give you a fighting chance at keeping your license, and by extension, your career. Your attorney can investigate the complaint against you, help you gather evidence to refute it, prepare you for questioning by investigators or at a hearing, and negotiate with the BPOA and the board to get you the best resolution possible. This might involve agreeing to lesser penalties or getting the complaint dismissed outright.
If you are a Pennsylvania social worker and have been accused of wrongdoing, it is crucial that you do not attempt to go through the disciplinary process without an attorney. Your livelihood is at stake, and facing the process alone could result in disastrous consequences. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today at (888) 535-3686 to schedule a consultation.