It is common for a board to dismiss complaints without taking administrative action after investigating. The reason this happens is primarily because anyone can file a complaint against a professional, including clients, patients, and competitors. There could be bad motivations for filing complaints like retaliation and there could also be complaints made that arose out of a misunderstanding or from a client that did not get what they wanted. Not all behavior complained of results in behavior severe enough to warrant disciplinary action. There are complaints, however, that are substantiated enough for the board to conduct an investigation and pursue administrative action. The ultimate goal for the boards is to protect the public from professional misconduct, negligence, and unethical behavior. Usually the first thing a board will do after receiving a complaint is to find the facts that are the basis of the complaint.
Facing an Investigation
An investigation will vary depending on the individual circumstances and the board, but will generally include collecting data, gathering documents or records, receiving information, talking to witnesses and parties involved, and watching surveillance or media. The goal of the investigation is to first; determine if the complaint is substantiated by the evidence. Second, it seeks to put a case together that can be used later on.
Many times nothing will come of the investigation, and the claims cannot be backed up. In this situation, the licensee will be told that the investigation did not back up the allegations and that there will be no further action. When the investigation leads to the board finding sufficient evidence to support the claims, the board must then notify the licensee.
Protecting Yourself and Your License
If you have a professional license and you have heard from the Board, there are some things that you should avoid doing because it could hurt you in the long run. First, never ignore an investigation or take it lightly, even when you know nothing could come of it. This is because your job and your professional license is at risk and possibly other people’s licenses as well.
Also, even if nothing comes of the investigation, the board could remember your business and your name and if a future investigation occurs, they could remember you as the uncooperative or suspicious person who would not work with them during the investigation.
Another point to make is that the investigative board often does not conduct an investigation on its own initiative. Investigations are the result of a third party’s complaint, and it is the board’s responsibility to conduct the investigation and protect the public. Any board investigation should be taken very seriously, even when you are confident that you did nothing wrong.
Another thing to avoid doing is meeting with the board or approaching the board in an attempt to plead your case during an investigation. This error is usually made when emotions are running high and a licensee has the urge to respond immediately to the allegations and explain what really happened. Giving away too much information without needing to can be a detriment to the future litigation and could even lead the investigating board to grow more suspicious and conduct a more in-depth investigation than originally intended.
You should never voluntarily give up more information than what is asked of you, and the best way to avoid doing this is to consult an attorney before speaking to the board or even giving up requested information. If you must meet with the board, it is highly recommended to speak to an attorney and have an attorney with you.
Another huge mistake to avoid is contacting the client or patient that you believe filed the complaint against you. Even if you feel that the complaint was a misunderstanding and you feel that you could persuade the person to withdraw the complaint, contacting the client could be seen as an attempt to harass or intimidate the complainant. Often, when we are upset and our livelihood is on the line, we speak from those emotions and do not think clearly. When we do this, we say things that we don’t intend to and that can backfire as being seen as intimidation and harassment.
If you are a professional licensee and have been approached by the board or notified that you are under investigation, remember to remain calm and speak with an attorney to make sure that you are protected when cooperating with the investigation. Lastly, remember to not speak with anyone but an attorney about the investigation, including coworkers, clients, patients, family, and friends. If you need to speak with an attorney about an investigation into your professional life, call our office to see how we can help you.