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A professional license is more than just a certification from an accrediting board. In many professions, it is the culmination of years of study and practice — a key to gainful employment in the holder’s profession of choice. But employment in regulated professions also comes with the risk of missteps and complaints, which can lead to investigations by accrediting boards, sanctions, suspensions, and even license revocations. While professional disciplinary procedures generally are not judicial proceedings, professional license holders often are permitted to be represented by attorneys in such investigations. If you are facing a threat to your professional license, you can maximize your chances of preserving your livelihood with the assistance of a Richmond employment lawyer

Regulated Professions in Virginia 

Professions tend to be regulated most heavily when their practitioners provide services that require the trust and confidence of their clients. Practitioners of these professions typically exercise some level of professional judgment and are required to place the client’s interests above their own. The most obvious example of this kind of relationship is in the healthcare setting, but many professions in Virginia are regulated to varying degrees. 

Some examples of regulated professions in Virginia include: 

  • Attorneys 
  • Accountants
  • Physicians
  • Nurses 
  • Dentists
  • Optometrists
  • Pharmacists
  • Physical therapists
  • Psychologists
  • Social workers
  • Architects and interior designers
  • Veterinarians 
  • Home inspectors 
  • Barbers and cosmetologists 
  • Polygraph examiners
  • Real estate agents
  • Auctioneers
  • Pawn brokers
  • Firearms dealers 

Each of these professions, and others, is governed by its own rules of professional conduct and is overseen by its own board. Those boards, in turn, may be regulated by the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (e.g., architects, barbers, and real estate agents), or other state-level agencies, including the Department of Health Professions (e.g., doctors, nurses, and psychologists) and the Supreme Court of Virginia (attorneys). 

Common Bases for Complaints Against Licensed Professionals

Because every profession has its own standards of professional conduct, certain behaviors are more likely to garner complaints in some professions than others. For example, the duty of confidentiality in the legal profession is much stricter than in the veterinary profession and therefore much easier to run afoul of. Regardless of the type of profession involved or its specific professional standards, some common complaints and ethical violations in regulated professions include: 

  • Lack of required communication 
  • Failure of disclosure, including failure to disclose conflicts of interest
  • Disclosure of confidential information 
  • Failure to obtain informed consent 
  • Practicing under the influence of drugs or alcohol 
  • Misappropriation of funds 
  • Inadequate record keeping
  • Breach of contract
  • Breach of fiduciary duty 
  • Discrimination and harassment
  • Failure to meet the standard of care
  • Conviction of a felony or misdemeanor 
  • Failure to meet continuing education requirements
  • Unauthorized practice or delegation to an unauthorized practitioner 

Some of these bases for complaints are more serious than others, but even mere allegations of misconduct can cause serious reputational damage. If you are being accused of violating a rule of professional conduct and are facing disciplinary action, please consider contacting a Richmond employment lawyer as soon as possible. 

Potential Disciplinary Actions Against Licensed Professionals 

Most professional regulatory bodies use a sliding scale of disciplinary actions commensurate with the seriousness of the allegation. These can range from minor “slap on the wrist” actions all the way up to the revocation of the practitioner’s license. Disciplinary actions vary by profession, but they can include: 

  • Public reprimand or censure: Reprimands usually take the form of a public document outlining the allegation against the professional, the board’s findings of fact and conclusion with regard to the allegation, and a statement that the professional is being reprimanded. A reprimand may be accompanied by a requirement to complete additional continuing education. 
  • Fines: Disciplinary fines typically are issued per violation and may be set at a standard amount, depending on the seriousness of the violation
  • Probation: Probation is often a way for boards to “flag” practitioners for closer scrutiny. It may impose limits on their ability to practice, require them to check in with the board periodically or place them under supervision, among other measures. 
  • Suspension: Suspension bars the practitioner from engaging in their profession for a set amount of time. In some cases, the practitioner may need to apply to have their license reinstated at the end of the suspension period. 
  • Revocation: Revocation effectively removes the practitioner from the profession, prohibiting them from practicing in any capacity

Disciplinary boards typically have considerable discretion when taking disciplinary actions against practitioners, and some actions may be imposed in combination. For example, a practitioner whose suspended license is reinstated may be placed on probation for a period of time after reinstatement. Some boards may also allow practitioners to pay fines or perform community service in lieu of certain disciplinary actions. 

Why You Should Hire an Attorney for Your Professional Licensing Matter 

Practitioners facing disciplinary actions are not required to be represented by counsel. However, just as it is not recommended for defendants to represent themselves in civil and criminal litigation, it is also not a good idea to go it alone when faced with an accusation of professional misconduct. First, consider how much is at stake — can you really afford to risk losing your livelihood or face severe restrictions on your ability to practice your profession? Second, disciplinary boards are not your friend. Their job is to protect the public and maintain the standards of the profession. They will not be looking out for your best interests the way an attorney will. And third, claims, defenses and evidentiary burdens in professional disciplinary hearings are not dissimilar to those in civil and criminal litigation. An attorney with litigation experience will be able to craft the strongest arguments and wield the most effective evidence in your defense. 

Contact a Richmond Employment Lawyer for More Information About Professional License Defense  

Allegations of professional misconduct can have serious repercussions for licensed professionals in a wide variety of professions. If you are facing disciplinary proceedings that could affect your ability to practice, an experienced attorney can help you defend your livelihood. For more information, please contact a Richmond employment lawyer at Pierce / Jewett by calling 804-502-2320 or using our online contact form.