First year of union partnership ends in near-80% success rate...

Washington Business Advocates and SEIU Local 925 Childcare Workers partnered in February 2015. In the first year, the success rate for union member clients reached 78%. In 60% of all cases, the Department of Early Learning dropped all charges against the provider. In the remaining 18% of these cases, the provider settled a dispute with the Department with an agreement that allowed the provider to retain a clean background check. The remaining 22% of cases are still pending or under appeal. 

A battle brews over nurse licensing in the digital age...

The Wall Street Journal explores the push by some hospitals to loosen the requirement that nurses be licensed in each state where they work. The change would allow a nurse already licensed in Washington to work in Oregon without a second license. Unions generally oppose the move, citing patient safety. Read more about the proposed nursing license compacts here

What to tell an investigator...

Most people are nervous when they get a letter or a phone call from a state investigator. The investigator will tell you, "I'm looking into a complaint." You will be asked for a written statement, or to visit the investigator's office. 

At this stage, you have not been charged with a violation. The investigator wants a statement so that he or she can charge you. Anything you say can either hurt you or help you.

Every situation is different. But the following guidelines can help: 

  • Remember the investigator is writing down everything you say over the phone, and anything you write can be used in a hearing later. 
  • Ask questions. If the investigator will not tell you why they are calling, say you're sorry but you can't answer unless you have enough information to understand what the investigator needs.
  • Don’t guess or estimate the information you give the Department. If you can’t remember or don’t have paperwork (such as emails, logs, or timesheets) to help prove your version of events, tell the investigator you want to be sure everything you say is accurate, and that you don’t remember the details.
  • Give the investigator any paperwork you have. If the investigator asks you to come to his or her office for an interview, find a lawyer or other legal representative to go with you.
  • Respond to the investigator before the deadline. 

Can I defend myself if the state investigates my business?

If you have the time and the patience to research the current regulations, and the confidence to navigate a tricky bureaucracy, then you might be able to represent yourself in a hearing.

Because many people lack the time to research, however, it's usually better for most people to hire an advocate or attorney who is familiar with the agency regulations. A neutral third party who understands the system and has worked with the agency before can protect your interests effectively. Also, since even a single misstatement could count as an admission, it's usually safer if someone other than the business owner talks to the agency during the investigation phase. The money spent protecting yourself from losing your business and your ability to practice in your profession is small compared to the financial costs of a negative state action. 

 

 

Should I sign a consent order that neither admits nor denies guilt, or voluntarily surrender my professional license?

State employees have heavy caseloads. They lack the time necessary to investigate the reports they receive. As a result, they often encourage business owners to sign a consent order, or otherwise admit to a lesser offense, and voluntarily surrender a professional license. They tell the business owner, "This will make it all go away." Unfortunately, this is not really true. A voluntary surrender or other admission of guilt is professional misconduct in Washington state. In most cases, it will be reported to the FBI national criminal database by the agency that maintained the license. It will also be used to justify refusing to issue the business owner any further professional licenses. It is a heavy thing to overcome. Unfortunately, because of the overworked agency staff, these risks are rarely explained to business owners. 

It is not a good idea to sign any statement without a hearing, or even to agree in a conversation with an investigator that the charges could be true. If you do, those facts will become part of the permanent record, even if they are not true. The consent order can still be used to revoke or suspend a professional license. Again, this license revocation or voluntary surrender will be reported to the FBI's criminal database and will show up in future background checks.

There is no advantage to you if you decide not to fight unfair or inaccurate charges. Always make the state prove that the charges are true. Don't just accept punishment for something that didn't happen because a consent order sounds like a compromise. It only makes sense to protect your rights and refuse to waive the right to a hearing or an appeal of the state's decision.

 

Can the state shut down my business or suspend my license even if I didn't do anything wrong?

 

A state or federal agency can revoke a business or professional license immediately if a complaint or statement of charges is allowed to stand unchallenged. It doesn't matter if the charge is true. For the purpose of the state's record, any charge that is not defended has been admitted and will be part of the business owner's permanent record. Most states now require these "admitted" violations, or even a voluntary license surrender, to be reported to the FBI's national criminal database, where it will appear on all background checks. A business owner who has done nothing wrong can lose the ability to practice in his field or ever obtain a license again. To avoid such an unfair result, it's very important to respond to every investigation or contact from the state with accurate information and well-kept records. State employees no longer have the time or resources to try to find the truth. A business owner or professional licensee has to be proactive when dealing with a regulator.

I received an investigation request, statement of charges, or notice of alleged professional misconduct in the mail - is this important?

 

A notice of investigation or a statement of charges requires immediate follow up from the business owner or professional license holder. Most states allow only a small amount of time to clarify any mistakes or request a hearing to prove your innocence. If you miss the deadline to request review of the matter - often you'll have less than a month from the date the letter was mailed - the state will consider your silence an admission. The charges will be entered on the record as the true, even if they're not. This could have serious consequences. You will likely lose your business license and your ability to practice in your profession. Most states also now require even voluntary license surrenders to be reported to the FBI in a criminal background check. Because of these consequences, it is very important that you respond immediately to the agency that sent the letter with the proper paperwork and documentation.