In the State of Arizona, in order to practice your chosen profession, you are required to be licensed by a specific licensing board or agency of the State of Arizona.  The licensed professional may be an accountant, doctor, dentist, nurse, psychologist, realtor, etc.  Most of the time, the professional has incurred thousands of dollars in debt pursuing college or post graduate courses to obtain their degree, take a licensing examination, and then begin practicing their chosen craft.  One of the scariest things for any licensed professional is receiving an ominous package from their licensing board, which normally includes a complaint brought against the licensee by a former patient or client.  This is scary because the licensed professional is not familiar with the process, and normally fears the worst—is their license and possibly their livelihood at risk.  While such fears are natural, with proper planning, the licensed professional can go through the complaint and investigation process with their Licensing Board and ultimately protect their license.

Getting a complaint against from a licensing board raises a number of questions for a licensed professional.  Having answers to these questions is the goal of this article.  The most basic fact to remember—if you are a licensed professional, and you get a complaint against your license, you need to take it seriously.  It is a serious matter because your very livelihood is at risk!

  1. What Happens When I Get A Complaint?

So what should you do when you get a complaint?

First, you need to breathe, and take a step back.  You will need to answer the complaint, but you need to understand how your response to a complaint plays into the bigger picture of the investigation by the Licensing Board.

Each Licensing Board’s investigation procedures are different, but have some similarities.  The licensed professional receives notice of a complaint, and is asked to provide a written response.  It is important to carefully consider how to provide your written response.  This is where a lawyer can assist you the most because the lawyer can prepare the response in a way to help you put your best foot forward.  The Board’s investigator will then sometimes meet with the licensed professional, or the licensed professional will then meet with the Licensing Board at what is referred to as an investigative interview.

After this initial investigation, the Licensing Board will then consider how to resolve the complaint.  This occurs during a formal meeting of the Board.  This leads to the next question I get quite a bit:

  1. What Can the Licensing Board Do to My License?

After this investigation is completed, the Licensing Board will consider options on how to resolve the complaint—whether to dismiss the complaint or impose some discipline against the professional’s license.  The first level of options available to the Licensing Board involve “non-discipline.”  The Board can dismiss the complaint against the licensed professional outright and take no further action.  If the Licensing Board feels as though some correction is needed, it will issue a letter of concern or advisory letter related to the complaint.  This is not a form of discipline against the professional but simply a statement and a letter from the Board to the licensed professional indicating that although the Board does not believe that there are sufficient facts to support discipline against the professional’s license, the professional should have done something more in dealing with the client or patient.  The Board can also order the licensed professional to complete continuing education, or pay restitution to the client or patient.  All of these forms of resolution are considered non-disciplinary and are not subject to further review or appeal.

The Board can also impose various forms of discipline.  Discipline is a punitive action taken by the Licensing Board against the professional’s license.  Discipline is appealable and reviewable by a higher Court.  The lowest form of discipline is a decree of censure, which is a statement from the Board on the professional’s license indicating that the professional violated the particular statute regulating their profession.  The next level of discipline is probation.  Probation may include limiting or monitoring the professional’s practice in some manner.  Such restrictions may involve having a supervisor observe the professional’s work, limiting the types of cases, clients or patients the professional can service or treat, etc.  The next form of discipline is for the Board to actually suspend the professional’s license for a period of time, and the final form of discipline is that the Board can revoke the professional’s license indefinitely.

Once the professional understands the seriousness of these types of proceedings, the next question that is asked is:

  1. How Can a Lawyer Help Me Through this Process?

Representation by an attorney is not required by any Licensing Board; however, having an attorney represent you before the Board will likely assist you in receiving a better outcome than if you were on your own.  A lot of times, the professional believes that the expense of an attorney is not worth it, and it would be less expensive for the professional to represent themselves.  If you were sued for professional negligence, would you represent yourself in a lawsuit.  The answer is no you would not. However, many professionals are willing to go without legal counsel before their Licensing Board when a disciplinary action could potentially eliminate their ability to practice! While there is an assumption that the licensed professional is highly skilled in their area of professional discipline, your discipline is not the practice of or interpretation of relevant law. The possibility of losing your license is a very serious matter. Having an attorney familiar with cases similar to yours is absolutely necessary for the best possible outcome before your Licensing Board.

In future articles, we will exploring what happens if you do not like the result of the Board’s actions against you, and what your options are in challenging a decision of your licensing Board.  If you need help or receive a licensing complaint, please call our office to assist you.  You can reach attorney David W. Williams at 480-733-6800.