Washington Business Advocates attorneys have the background, the interest, and the ability to handle challenging administrative law cases in professional license defense. We prioritize agency cases and have developed an understanding of Washington agency rules and the options available to protect defendants facing investigations, negative actions, or agency hearings.
Elizabeth Steen has advised professional license defense clients facing investigations, disciplinary actions, and professional misconduct allegations for 10 years. These can range from standard of care issues and records keeping violations to allegations of professional misconduct and appeals to the Superior Court of Washington State. Her diverse regulatory and compliance experience include successfully defending investigations and adjudicative hearings before many Washington state agencies, including the Department of Health, the Department of Financial Institutions, the Department of Licensing, and the Office of Administrative Hearings, and working with compliance and investigations for federal agencies that include the Transportation Security Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Elizabeth graduated from Indiana University Maurer School of Law - Bloomington in 2007. She interned in the United States Senate and worked as a consultant for various agencies in D.C. before moving to Seattle to be nearer to family.
Professional license defense in Washington can be very expensive. Washington state employees will try to run up your legal costs and fees if you hire a lawyer to help with your agency hearing. The employees will also take advantage of small rules that you wouldn’t know as a non-lawyer if you don’t have a lawyer. The State of Washington also changed the rules to penalize people who hire a lawyer - you’ll lose your right to a good cause exception and other legal benefits.
At Washington Business Advocates, we found that, given the state’s rules tying the hands of lawyers attempting professional license defense, it is not possible to provide a cost-effective representation in an agency hearing in Washington State. And we strongly advise you not to hire a lawyer who treats an administrative hearing like a court process for your professional license defense. You’ll only end up paying a lot of fees and still losing. Agency hearings are nothing like a court trial. More important, your administrative hearing defense should not cost more than $4,500, in our experience. With the rules in Washington State, you’re usually paying for a lawyer to lower your fine, when you could just pay the fine.
However, some people still need help clearing their name and protecting their livelihood. At Washington Business Advocates, we can help you prepare your paperwork and protect your rights without costly fees. We don’t file a notice of appearance or represent you in the hearing - that is way too expensive to be cost-effective given the rule changes. Instead we can defend your license by fixing your paperwork, giving you an overview of the rules, and helping you protect yourself. We give your professional license defense a cost-effective boost without the additional fees.
Successfully fought inaccurate complaints against 72 total small business owners and professional license holders, 2015-2018.
Overturned 17 allegations of Unprofessional Conduct based on false reports from disgruntled employees or former romantic partners.
Charges dismissed for 21 businesses suspended by a state agency and unable to continue to operations until the charges were cleared.
The Washington State Department of Health investigates and charges nurses, nurse practitioners, and other health professionals in Washington State.
Washington law allows the Department of Health to suspend or revoke a license for any violation of any rule. There are sentencing guidelines, but these can be set aside in the Department’s discretion for almost any reason. Most professional license holders expect their hearing to focus on the original allegation - such as not recording a prescription correctly or abusing or neglecting a patient. They, quite reasonably, defend themselves on the most serious charge, and in doing so they lose focus on the paperwork, which can be extremely confusing. However, most hearings will focus mainly on small administrative rules that the investigator believes were violated. Even if the original charge is bogus, not responding quickly enough to the investigator can still allow the state employees to suspend a license for someone who was unfairly accused by a former ex-boyfriend. Even if the nurse practitioner or other health professional can prove that they are innocent, the state can still take away the professional license based on the paperwork in the case. It’s a very tricky process.
How you speak to the investigator and what you say in the first interview is as important, or probably more important, than the actual facts of your case. Call us if you receive a statement of charges, or a letter or phone call from an investigator. We can help you work up a case to avoid a hearing.
We will not enter your hearing - the state’s many rules tying lawyer’s hands make it very difficult to provide a cost-effective representation. But we can help you save time and money and, ideally, avoid a charge or a hearing before the Department of Health, the Nursing Care Quality Assurance Committee, or any other state agency.
Daycare providers who are investigated or charged by the Department of Children and Families can receive free legal help through Service Employees International Union Local 925 to all members. Washington Business Advocates PLLC contracted with SEIU Local 925 in the past. Eventually, the state of Washington changed the rules to effectively prevent lawyers from working with daycare providers. We don’t want to take money for a service that can be provided for free. And we don’t want you to spend your money on another law firm that won’t know the rules or the history of the new DCF. If you are a daycare worker who has been investigated or charged, there is free help available through SEIU Local 925.
If you are licensed professional in the State of Washington and are experiencing accusations of professional misconduct, it in in your best interest to seek legal representation before a statement of charges is issued. Washington Business Advocates, PLLC can help.
1. Mortgage Brokers
2. Loan Originators
3. Escrow Agents
5. Bail Bond Agents
6. Security Guards
7. Private Investigators
8. Employment Agencies
9. Commercial Telephone Solicitors
10. Court Reporters
11. Driver Training Schools and Instructors
12. Vehicle Operators for Hire
13. Limousines and Limousine Drivers
14. Boxing, Martial Arts, and Wrestling Professionals
15. Real Estate Appraisers
16. Real Estate Brokers and Salespersons
17. Home Inspectors
18. Appraisal Management Companies
19. Insurance Agents
21. Tow Truck Drivers
22. Hulk Haulers
23. Travel Agents
24. Timeshare and Timeshare Salespersons
25. Camping Resort Operators
26. Whitewater River Outfitters
27. Cosmetologist, Barbers, Manicurists, and Estheticians
28. Body Artists, Body piercers, body piercing,
29. Tattooing Shops, and tattoo artists, and body art and Businesses
31. Certified Public Accountants
3. Dentists and Dental Hygienists and Denturists
6. Nursing Homes and Nursing Home Administrators
8. Pharmacists and Pharmacy assistants
9. Physicians and Physician assistants
10. Physical Therapists
12. Long-term Care Workers
13. Respiratory Care Practitioners
14. Radiology Technicians
16. Mental Health Counselors and Chemical Dependency Professionals
17. Social Workers
18. Athletic Trainers
19. Massage Therapists
The Washington State Department of Health licenses hundreds of types of professionals and facilities in Washington state. The department must conduct an investigation whenever a complaint is filed against a nurse, a physician assistant, an adult family home caregiver, or any other licensed professional. These investigations often proceed without an attorney who can navigate the system. As a result, casual comments are taken for confessions, inaccurate paperwork is never corrected, and other such small errors on the part of resource-strapped state investigators can have large consequences for the Washington professionals affected. Learn more about the Department of Health complaint process against professional license holders here.
The Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission (NCQA) handles complaints against nurses, operators of nursing schools, and other health professionals and health care facilities. The NCQA's process is extremely complicated compared to most regulatory systems, and the investigators work closely with the board members who will vote on whether or not to remove a practitioner's license. It is very difficult to sue to reinstate a professional license after this happens, so it's important to find someone to talk to the NCQA personnel before any negative action is taken. Learn more about the NCQA disciplinary process here.
The Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) oversees business and professional licenses that include private investigators, home inspectors, employment agencies, appraisers, real estate brokers, and many other types of small businesses in Washington state.
It can be difficult to be unfairly charged. Anyone can file an online complaint with the DOL alleging professional misconduct or a violation of the department's rules. An unhappy customer, a person who is mistaken, even a competitor can quickly and easily start an investigation that could end the business and disqualify the owner from working in the profession in the future.
Most business owners assume the state employees will dismiss an unfair charge. It’s still important to navigate the bureaucracy carefully, though. Learn more about the rules DOL imposes here.
The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions regulates financial institutions and securities filings. Their rules affect many professionals in Washington state, including brokers, dealers, people who seek financial backing for a creative or artistic project, and franchisors. Any professional who is investigated could lose his or her license and ability to practice in Washington, or any other, state for a number of years or permanently. Learn more about DFI rules and agency regulation here.
Washington State provides insurance to cover injuries to employees on the job through its Department of Labor and Industries (L&I). Washington State provides unemployment benefits to employees who have lost their jobs through its Employment Security Department (ESD). Generally, L&I premiums are funded by payroll taxes based on total hours worked and ESD benefits by wages paid, subject to an annual limit. Auditors from the respective departments audit employers’ records to ensure compliance and accuracy of reporting and paying the taxes.
Auditors from L&I and ESD begin an audit by sending a letter to the employer or by contacting the employer by phone.
Washington State’s Departments of Revenue, L&I and ESD posted a video accessible on the State’s website that explains each department’s audit process and what to expect. Here is a script for the video and here is the video.
If you are given notice of an audit, you will want to decide whether or not to have third party representation and respond promptly to the auditor initiating contact. As in any audit, you have the right to third party representation.
In an L&I audit, you should receive a pre-audit questionnaire and a check list of records the auditor wants to see. Records are usually provided electronically. You want to avoid creating spreadsheets or other second-tier records. The auditor wants the originals, even if the originals are hard to read or presented in a confusing order.
The auditors are looking for invoices paid to unreported employees, casual labor, and independent contractors for which no tax was paid. If a business engages independent contractors, the business owner should still check that each contractor meets the requirements of L&I to be classified as an independent contractor, or the auditor may try to reclassify all the sub-contractors as employees, which could be an expensive adjustment. You can check each contractor’s status with L&I here.
Independent contractors are of particular concern in L&I audits, and can lead to problems with the Washington State Employment Security Department as well. Findings by one agency may be reported to the other agencies thereby triggering additional audits and potential taxes, interest, and penalties. It usually pays to focus on keeping really good records for independent contractors.
Worker injuries also tend to trigger audits from one or several Washington state agencies, including ESD and L&I. If a worker is injured, try to collect records of everyone who was there and talk to the employee to find out what happened and assess any risk to your business.
Tip: If your business is a sole-proprietorship or you are a household employer, it is better to use a separate checking account for all business transactions. If you use your personal account for your business expenses or payments, and your business is audited, then an auditor will be inspecting personal transactions that are completely unrelated to the audit, which is awkward.
It may save you money on audit, if you, or a professional you have engaged, have researched the different types of businesses and employers and are aware of the various requirements. Take the necessary steps to ensure compliance or, at a minimum, make sure you understand the risks.
Good business owners are charged unfairly every day. A little preparation can help a lot.