Can You Lose Your Illinois Professional License For Making Racist Comments?

America’s current and long-overdue reckoning with systemic racism is manifesting itself in countless ways. From the millions marching in the streets to the pressure placed on corporations, executives, entertainers, and others to acknowledge and apologize for racist words and actions, it is clear that silence is no longer enough.

Similarly, those with far lower profiles are also being called out for their casual racism. Every week, seemingly, another so-called “Karen” becomes the unwitting star of a viral video in which they are seen flexing their privilege, entitlement, and prejudice by hurling insults at an African-American or other person of color. Birdwatching, sitting by the pool at a hotel where they are registered guests, doing some repairs on their own home – these are the transgressions for which they face the wrath of an angry white person making false claims of assault and calling 911 for absolutely no reason at all. As a matter of fact, after I started writing this post, yet another such video was burning up the internet

You Can Lose Your Job For Racism, But What About Your License?

But internet justice can be swift and unmerciful. Those whose repulsive conduct goes viral often find themselves out of a job, disowned and disavowed by employers who do not want their reputations tarnished by the racism of one of their employees. 

In the vast majority of states, private employers are well within their rights to fire an employee for being perceived as or for actually being a racist and/or Trump supporter, expressing other political or social views, or for pretty much any reason other than race, sex, religion, or membership in another legally protected other class.

But while you can lose your job for being a racist, can you also lose your professional license in Illinois for being one?

Is Racism “Unprofessional,” “Dishonorable,” and “Harmful”?

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) is a governmental body, which means that any adverse action based on the exercise of a professional’s free speech rights implicates the First Amendment. But the question of whether and how personal, off-the-clock, and non-criminal conduct can lead to professional license disciplinary action is still tricky.

The laws and rules governing all professions in Illinois contain many specific bases for disciplinary action, almost all of which are based on acts and omissions directly related to their professional responsibilities. But some licensing acts and underlying rules contain vague and ambiguous language which could theoretically be used by IDFPR to institute disciplinary proceedings for private conduct.

For example, a nurse is subject to disciplinary action under Section 70-5(b)(7) of the Illinois Nurse Practice Act for “engaging in dishonorable, unethical or unprofessional conduct of a character likely to deceive, defraud or harm the public…”

Note that this section of the Act doesn’t discuss deceiving, defrauding, or harming a patient; it talks about “the public.” Is chanting racist slogans or baselessly calling 911 on an African-American “dishonorable” or “unprofessional” conduct likely to “harm” the public? The IDFPR (and most other folks) may see it that way, even if the First Amendment may ultimately thwart the Board if they try to discipline a licensee on that basis. But politics and free speech issues aside, other private conduct can put licensed professionals at risk for disciplinary action.

In Texas, for example, licensing boards have taken a very aggressive approach towards off-the-clock, legal, and harmless conduct which they believe implicates professional “fitness” or “judgment.” As one attorney in Texas described it, using such private behavior as the basis for discipline means that “anything you could do at any point could be considered unprofessional. They really do believe they have the ability to legislate morality.”

In Illinois, all kinds of personal behavior could arguably be scrutinized if a particular investigator or regulator at the IDFPR decides to look at things through that prism. Sexual conduct, controversial parenting techniques, a screaming tirade at a store clerk, internet searches – all legal, all having nothing to do with job performance – they may be fair game.

It would be serious overreach by the IDFPR if they were to take action based on such conduct, but as I have written before, the disciplinary process in Illinois can be manifestly unfair and stacked against you. Experienced and aggressive prosecutors have your license in their sights, and the hearing officer who will determine your fate is bringing their own biases to your case.

Everything we do in life has consequences. Those who are or act like racists should be prepared for the fallout from such repugnant beliefs and behavior. This can include the loss of their professional license. If decency, empathy, and a sense of shared humanity can’t change their views, perhaps the threat of losing their livelihood will.

Louis Fine: Chicago Professional License Defense Attorney

As a former Chief Prosecuting Attorney and administrative law judge for IDFPR, I have seen the serious consequences that an adverse enforcement decision can have on professionals who suddenly find their future in disarray. I understand how and why the Department decides to pursue investigations, how it handles negotiations, and how to approach formal proceedings in a way that gives my clients the best possible chance of a positive and expeditious outcome.

Please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. Together, we will get you back to your clients and your career.

Telemedicine and Physician Licensing: How the 19th Century is Holding Back the 21st

teleAdvancements in technology almost always outpace efforts by legislators and regulators to address the new realities, issues, and concerns that arise from such innovations. Laws that made sense even a short ten years ago can quickly become anachronistic, if not counterproductive.

Such is the dilemma facing physicians and healthcare providers who see telemedicine as a key way to address a growing physician shortage, especially in rural and other underserved areas. That shortage is expected to grow to 120,000 doctors by 2030, according to a 2018 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

51 Different Licenses

The problem is that while the internet knows no borders, medical licenses do. Increasingly, the inability of physicians to provide remote care to patients in other states where they are not licensed is holding back telemedicine’s potential and unnecessarily denying patients access to quality healthcare.

Physicians must be licensed in each state where their current and future patients are located, so a doctor wanting to counsel patients through telemedicine would need to obtain and stay compliant with licensing requirements in up to 51 jurisdictions governed by 51 different medical boards imposing 51 different standards, conditions, and rules.

The current state-based medical licensing regime traces its roots back to the 19th Century, and the system is clearly showing its age. While effective and robust licensing is still essential in ensuring quality of care, the lack of license reciprocity and portability between states is now more of a hindrance to providing such care than a help.

That is why already active efforts to change medical licensing to facilitate telemedicine continue to gain steam. The most successful of these efforts to date has been the Federation of State Medical Licensing Board’s (FSMB) work establishing the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. Physicians in good standing can freely practice in any of the states participating in the compact so long as they possess a “full and unrestricted” license in their state of principal license (SPL). To date, only 24 states, including Illinois, have joined the compact.

A Uniform, Nationwide System

This still leaves too many doctors and too many patients locked out of telemedicine. As noted by the authors of a recent article in the American Journal of Managed Care, “The impact of restricting telemedicine falls hardest on poor patients, the uninsured, and those who rely on state Medicaid programs, many of whom lack access to reliable transportation and cannot travel across state lines to see specialists.”

That is why the FSMB and other telemedicine advocates have advanced several proposals to enhance license portability and reduce regulatory barriers to telemedicine. They all are based around a mutual recognition scheme whereby states honor each other’s medical licenses based on models that have been successfully used in Europe and Australia and by the Veterans Health Administration, US military, and US Public Health Service.

Adoption of a nationwide licensing scheme would be facilitated by establishing consistent standards for using and regulating telemedicine services, the sharing of malpractice, medical error, and license cancellation or suspension information between states, and other federal and state-level reforms.

Any efforts that would streamline the physician licensing process while at the same time increasing access to healthcare for those who need it most should be encouraged.

Louis R. Fine: Chicago Physician License Defense Attorney

Throughout my career, I have been protecting the livelihoods and professional futures of physicians and other health care providers before the IDFPR, combining insight and experience with zealous and strategic advocacy.

The moment you are contacted by IDFPR or learn that you are under investigation is the moment that you should contact me. I will immediately begin communicating with IDFPR prosecutors and work with you to develop the strategy best suited to achieving the goal of an efficient, cost-effective outcome that avoids any adverse action. Together, we will protect your Illinois physician’s license and get you back to your patients and your career.

Please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.

Illinois Adult Use Cannabis Dispensary Applications Are Ready. Are You?

pot appIf you want to obtain a license to own and operate an Illinois adult use cannabis dispensary, your time has come. On October 1st, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), which is charged with implementing and administrating multiple aspects of the state’s adult use marijuana program under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (the “Act”), made available the application form for new Conditional Adult Use Dispensing Organization Licenses.

These licenses, applications for which must be hand-delivered to the Department’s Chicago offices no later noon on January 2, 2020, are “conditional” in that they do not allow the licensee to purchase or sell marijuana until they have found a suitable location (which they must do within 180 days), passed an inspection by IDFPR, and paid the registration fee. All available conditional licenses will be issued no later than May 1, 2020.

Once these requirements are met, the Department will award the licensee an Adult Use Dispensing Organization License, which authorizes the holder to legally obtain and sell cannabis pursuant to the Act.

In a previous post, I discussed application fees, the number of licenses that the Department will issue, the criteria that the Department will use in choosing licensees, and general ownership requirements. Now that applications are available for preparation and completion, let’s discuss what is involved in the application itself.

In short, a lot.

Hundreds of Pages of Supporting Documentation Required

The application form itself is all of one page long, but the supporting documentation that must be gathered, prepared, and submitted is voluminous and comprehensive. This isn’t just a matter of making copies of existing records; applicants must develop detailed plans covering several aspects of dispensary operation. IDFPR will not consider any application that lacks the required exhibits.

In addition to the fee and Principal Officer application form, applicants must submit a:

  • Table of Organization, Ownership and Control and Business Operating Agreements
  • Dispensing Organization Agent Training and Education Plan
  • Purchaser Education Plan
  • Business Plan
  • Recalls, Quarantine, and Destruction Plan
  • Security Plan
  • Inventory Monitoring and Recordkeeping Plan
  • Proposed Floor Plan
  • Operating Plan
  • Plan for Community Engagement
  • Diversity Plan
  • Anonymized Document or Resume for Each Proposed Principal Officer (demonstrating education, knowledge, or experience in the cannabis industry)
  • Financial Information
  • Evidence of Status as a Social Equity Applicant, if applying as a Social Equity Applicant
  • Labor and Employment Practices Plan (optional)
  • Environmental Plan (optional)
  • Evidence of Status as an Illinois Owner (optional)
  • Evidence of Status as a Veteran (optional)

For each of the foregoing exhibits, IDFPR has established detailed and specific requirements as to what applicants need to include. Given how much is involved in preparing a dispensary application, January 2, 2020 doesn’t seem that far away. Aspiring Illinois cannabis entrepreneurs need to fire up their efforts immediately, if they haven’t already done so.

Need Help With Your Illinois Adult Use Cannabis Dispensary Application? Call Me Today.

If you are considering entering the legal cannabis industry in Illinois and have questions about the IDFPR application process and criteria, please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.

Minor Licensing Violations Could Cost Physicians Medicare Billing Privileges Under Proposed Rule

For phmedicareysicians and other eligible health care professionals, Medicare enrollment and billing privileges are invaluable and lucrative assets that can form a substantial portion of their revenues, allow them to treat more patients, and expand their career opportunities. Losing those privileges can be a catastrophic blow to a practice.

But a new rule proposed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services (CMS) would dramatically expand CMS’ authority to deny or revoke Medicare privileges, allowing it to substitute its judgment for that of state licensing boards and impose such catastrophic sanctions even for infractions a state board deems relatively minor.

On August 14, 2019, CMS issued what it called a “major proposed rule” addressing a wide range of changes to the Medicaid physician fee schedule and other aspects of participation in the program. If it becomes final, all 808 pages of the proposed rule would represent the most substantial modification to program enrollment and eligibility since the establishment of the regulations in 2006.

CMS Can Impose Harsher Sanctions Than State Boards

In the proposed rule, CMS notes that, at the moment, it cannot make Medicare eligibility and renewal decisions based solely on state board disciplinary actions:

“We currently lack the legal basis to take administrative action against a physician or other eligible professional for a matter related to patient harm based solely on… an administrative action (excluding a state medical license suspension or revocation) imposed by a state oversight board,” such as the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR).

The new rule would grant CMS such authority and “would permit us to revoke or deny, as applicable, a physician’s or other eligible professional’s… enrollment if he or she has been subject to prior action from a state oversight board… with underlying facts reflecting improper physician or other eligible professional conduct that led to patient harm.”

84 Fed. Reg. at 40723.

As a practical matter, the rule gives CMS the power to review a state board’s conclusions and sanctions and then make its own determination as to whether the physician’s or other professional’s conduct warrants exclusion from Medicare.

This can lead to a situation in which IDFPR deems an infraction to be relatively minor and perhaps deserving of a “slap on the wrist” while CMS could decide to impose a “death sentence” in terms of Medicare eligibility, a conflict CMS readily acknowledges:

“We recognize that situations could arise where a state oversight board has chosen to impose a relatively minor sanction on a physician or other eligible professional for conduct that we deem more serious. We note, however, that we, rather than state boards, is ultimately responsible for the administration of the Medicare program and the protection of its beneficiaries. State oversight of licensed physicians or practitioners is, in short, a function entirely different from federal oversight of Medicare. We accordingly believe that we should have the discretion to review such cases to determine whether, in the agency’s view, the physician’s or other eligible professional’s conduct warrants revocation or denial.”

Id.

Making matters worse for sanctioned physicians, a decision by CMS to revoke Medicare privileges results in an automatic cross-termination of participation in Medicaid and other federal payer programs.

The public comment period for the proposed rule closes on September 27, 2019. If the rule is enacted, it becomes that much more critical for physicians facing IDFPR investigations or disciplinary proceedings – even for a “minor” infraction – to retain experienced professional license defense counsel.

Louis R. Fine: Chicago Physician License Defense Attorney

Throughout my career, I have been protecting the livelihoods and professional futures of physicians and other health care providers before the IDFPR, combining insight and experience with zealous and strategic advocacy.

The moment you are contacted by IDFPR or learn that you are under investigation is the moment that you should contact me. I will immediately begin communicating with IDFPR prosecutors and work with you to develop the strategy best suited to achieving the goal of an efficient, cost-effective outcome that avoids any adverse action. Together, we will protect your Illinois physician’s license and get you back to your patients and your career.

Please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.

Universal Professional License Reciprocity: New Arizona Law May Be the Start of Something Big

recip 2Qualifying for, obtaining, and maintaining a professional license can be a time-consuming, often frustrating, and burdensome endeavor – even if everything goes as smoothly as possible. Going through the process once is tough enough; the thought of going through it again simply because you want to move and practice your profession in a new state can be enough to make you stay put and lose out on lucrative opportunities.

That is the dilemma faced by contractors, dentists, cosmetologists, and scores of other professionals who must meet a whole new set of licensing requirements -such as education and testing – when they want to work in another state. While some states do have “reciprocity” for a very narrow group of professions and will grant a license based on an out-of-state license, not one state had universal license recognition – until now.

Arizona Passes Nation’s First Universal License Recognition Law

Recently, Arizona became the first state in the nation to pass a law allowing almost all professionals who have valid occupational licenses in other states to obtain a license to work in Arizona without having to meet the state’s education and testing requirements.

Under the new law, Arizona’s licensing boards will recognize out-of-state occupational licenses for people who have been licensed in their profession for at least one year, are in good standing in all states where they are licensed, pay applicable Arizona fees, and meet all residency and background check requirements. Licensed professionals will not be required to duplicate training and other requirements that often needlessly delay or prevent them from starting to work in their new home.

Limited Reciprocity in Illinois

While Arizona is the first state to bring reciprocity and license recognition to broad swaths of professions and occupations, Illinois and several other states do offer reciprocity for specific licenses. The most prominent of these is for real estate brokers. Individuals who hold an active broker’s license in any of the following states can obtain an Illinois license without having to meet the education and testing obligations that other applicants do:

  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Nebraska
  • Wisconsin

Individuals in a handful of other professions who hold a valid license in another state, including architects and registered nurses, can obtain an Illinois license under a process called “licensure by endorsement” if the licensure process in that other state was substantially equivalent to the process in Illinois at the time of licensure.

Will Other States Follow Suit?

Arizona’s bold move is a boon for any professional wanting to pick up and move to the Grand Canyon State. But what about the rest of the country? To date, no other state has advanced a bill along the lines of Arizona’s. But there is increasing business and political pressure to reduce licensing burdens generally so that qualified professionals can work without being deterred by costs, bureaucracy, and other hurdles. Universal license recognition certainly fits into that philosophy. I expect that other states will take a cautious approach initially, waiting to see how Arizona’s law works in practice before jumping on the universal licensing bandwagon. Nevertheless, this law is a great start.

Louis Fine: Chicago Professional License Defense Attorney

If you have questions or concerns about your professional license, or you learn that you are the subject of an IDFPR investigation or complain, please contact me immediately. As a former Chief Prosecuting Attorney and administrative law judge for IDFPR, I have seen the serious consequences that an adverse enforcement decision can have on professionals who suddenly find their future in disarray. I can work with you to develop the strategy best suited to achieving the goal of an efficient, cost-effective outcome that avoids any adverse action. Together, we will get you back to your clients and your career.

Please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.

JB + IDFPR = More Aggressive Licensing Enforcement?

JBIf it wasn’t already apparent, the recent conclusion of the spring legislative session in Springfield makes it abundantly clear that we’re not in the land of Bruce Rauner anymore. Legalized recreational pot and sports betting, constitutional amendments, tax overhauls, and additional protections for abortion rights – all of these are just the most high-profile changes about to be signed into law by Gov. J. B. Pritzker.

What remains less clear is the impact that the Pritzker administration and unified Democratic control of state government will have on professional licensing and the activities and priorities of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). Pritzker has appointed a new IDFPR Secretary and Director of Real Estate, but these leadership decisions don’t provide much insight into how if at all the department will change. However, two recent initiatives and investigations may foretell a more aggressive approach to licensing enforcement and disciplinary action.

Bogus Stem Cell Therapies

Touted as a revolutionary advancement in the treatment of a range of maladies including bone and muscle injuries and pain relief, various iterations of stem cell therapy are being offered by doctors and clinics throughout Illinois. But, according to IDFPR, these treatments – which can cost thousands of dollars each – are unproven and ineffective at best, and a bogus scam at worst.

As reported by CBS Chicago, Dr. Brian Zachariah, IDFPR’s medical coordinator, is taking a decidedly more skeptical approach to stem cell therapy than the department did under the previous administration. “People are being misled, oversold, overcharged on therapies that they are desperate to get,” he is quoted as saying. Dr. Zachariah indicated that the department would ramp up its investigation of patient complaints and increase disciplinary efforts. “We can and will discipline them ranging from a reprimand through fines, suspensions all the way to revoking their license,” he said.

Contractors Preying on Vulnerable Storm Victims

This spring has seen horrific weather throughout the state with torrential rains, tornadoes, and powerful storms wreaking havoc on homes and businesses. When that happens, unscrupulous “storm chasers” often descend on communities looking to exploit those who desperately need repairs because of storm-related damage.

While general contractors, oddly, are not required to be licensed by IDFPR, roofing contractors must have a license. Same goes for insurance adjusters. IDFPR, along with As reported in AdvantageNews, Attorney General Kwame Raoul have indicated that they will aggressively go after unlicensed roofers as well as licensed ones who attempt to scam victims in the wake of extreme weather.

These efforts relating to stem cell therapy and contracting scams may not seem particularly noteworthy; after all, shielding patients and consumers from fraud, misrepresentations, or incompetence is one of the foundational justifications for professional licensing regimes. But it would not be surprising to see Gov. Pritzker’s IDFPR continue with a robust consumer protection approach that will keep a keen eye on any actions by licensed professionals that could be seen as taking advantage of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

Louis Fine: Chicago Professional License Defense Attorney

If you have questions or concerns about your professional license, or you learn that you are the subject of an IDFPR investigation or complain, please contact me immediately. As a former Chief Prosecuting Attorney and administrative law judge for IDFPR, I have seen the serious consequences that an adverse enforcement decision can have on professionals who suddenly find their future in disarray. I can work with you to develop the strategy best suited to achieving the goal of an efficient, cost-effective outcome that avoids any adverse action. Together, we will get you back to your clients and your career.

Please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.

Spring Ahead With These Important Professional Licensing Updates and Developments

updateHappy Springtime. In the spirit of the season, we’ve put together a potpourri of recent stories, issues, and developments in the world of Illinois professional licensing. As a Chicago professional license defense law firm, we stay abreast of all matters involving the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) and that impact licensed professionals throughout the state.

Here is the latest news on the Illinois professional licensing front:

Citizenship Not Required For Professional Licenses Under New Bill

A bill recently introduced in the Illinois Senate would allow otherwise qualified applicants for professional licenses to obtain a license regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.

Senate Bill 1166, which passed the full Senate on March 21 and is now pending in the Illinois House of Representatives, provides that, except as otherwise provided by law, no department shall deny an occupational or professional license based solely on the applicant’s citizenship status or immigration status.

The bill’s author, Assistant Majority Leader Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), explained said that she drafted the legislation because, “If anyone in our state wants to contribute by working hard and paying taxes, they should not be denied because of where they were born.”

Extended IDFPR Delays Risks Exodus of Physician Assistants From Illinois

There is always a bit of a wait time between the date IDFPR receives a professional license application and the date it issues one. But every day that passes during that time is a day that the applicant can’t make a living and earn a paycheck working in their chosen profession.

For physician assistants (PAs), who are in one of the fastest-growing and most in-demand professions in the country, the problem with IDFPR delays is particularly acute. PAs are having to sit on their hands for months before they can begin to do their jobs helping patients.

The current processing time for Illinois Physician Assistant applications is 8 to 10 weeks, according to IDFPR, though some applicants report having to wait well-over three months before receiving their license. By way of contrast, the average wait time in neighboring Wisconsin is all of eight days.

The Illinois Academy of Physician Assistants (IAPA) places the blame on understaffing at IDFPR and its lack of “sufficient funding to tackle the backlog of applications.”

A report earlier this year by NBC 5 Chicago indicated that the difference in wait times is making a difference in where newly-minted PAs are choosing to practice, potentially leaving a shortage of PAs in Illinois at the same time their services are increasingly being utilized by more patients.

Hairstylists Now Need Domestic Violence Training

Hairstylists often become unofficial therapists and sounding boards for their clients. Now, they will officially need training so that they can spot signs of domestic violence or sexual assault and help those clients who are experiencing such trauma.

Under an Illinois law passed in 2016, all 84,000 beauty professionals in the state have until this September to complete the in-person or online classes. Cosmetologists, cosmetology teachers, estheticians, esthetic teachers, hair braiders, hair braiding teachers, nail technicians, and nail technology teachers will not be able to renew their professional licenses unless they do so.

The classes are one-hour and only one session is required, There are 20 approved sponsors across the state providing the needed training, including several locations in Chicago. IDFPR has a full list of all available class locations.

Louis Fine: Chicago Professional License Defense Attorney

If you have questions or concerns about your professional license, or you learn that you are the subject of an IDFPR investigation or complain, please contact me immediately. As a former Chief Prosecuting Attorney and administrative law judge for IDFPR, I have seen the serious consequences that an adverse enforcement decision can have on professionals who suddenly find their future in disarray. I can work with you to develop the strategy best suited to achieving the goal of an efficient, cost-effective outcome that avoids any adverse action. Together, we will get you back to your clients and your career.

Please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.

Top 5 Tips For Avoiding Professional License Complaints

complaintYou can’t please everyone. No matter your profession or career, if you have clients, customers, or patients, one of them at some point is going to be unhappy with you and your services. Whether their displeasure is justified or not, whether or not you’ve done everything right and are without fault for anything, whether they are straight-up making up facts and allegations, that disgruntled person can become a major thorn in your side.

If they file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), you will have to deal with it. At minimum, it will make you angry, frustrated, or indignant and you will need to spend your valuable time responding to the claims against you. If you fail to address the complaint effectively or if the Department finds merit in the allegations, the potential damage to your reputation and risk to your livelihood become exponentially greater.

In a perfect world, your professionalism, ethics, and competence would prevent any license complaints against you. But as we see every day, our world is anything but perfect. That said, there are things you can do to reduce the likelihood of complaints and position yourself for a positive outcome if a complaint is filed.

For doctors, accountants, appraisers, hairstylists, or any of the scores of professions regulated by IDFPR, here are five tips for avoiding professional license complaints:

  1. Know your professional obligations. Specific laws, rules, and regulations govern your profession. Baseline standards of care, continuing education requirements, and other obligations must be complied with for you to stay on the right side of regulators and These requirements are numerous and can change without notice. Make sure that you keep up with your obligations and audit yourself every year to confirm that you are in compliance.
  2. Educate your staff. If you employ others in your practice or profession, you are responsible for everything they do in the course of their employment. Their misconduct, malfeasance, or negligence can directly threaten your license. You need to supervise, train, and educate your staff to ensure that they understand their professional obligations and are following all applicable rules. Put in place policies and protocols that can minimize deviations and quickly correct them if they occur.
  3. To sue or not to sue? You have every right to get paid for services you provide, and when a client or customer skips out on a bill, you have every right to pursue them in a collection lawsuit. While some folks may fail to pay because they are simply avoiding their obligations, others may claim that the services you provided were substandard, improper, or not what you promised. If that’s the case, you’ll want to try to resolve these disputes before filing suit. Even if you can’t do so, you’ll be well-positioned if they respond with a license complaint, as sued clients often do.
  4. Document everything. Whether in a civil lawsuit or an IDFPR disciplinary proceeding, the more documentation and evidence you have to support your position, the better your chances of a positive outcome. Be sure to document any problems that occur and the steps that you took to correct them. If any staff was involved, have them document their version of events as well.
  5. Communicate. What we have here with so many professional license complaints is a failure to communicate. Inadequate client communication can lead to misunderstandings or feelings of neglect and insufficient care, increasing client dissatisfaction and the likelihood of claims. Be accessible and responsive, and make sure your staff is too.

As noted, you will likely face a professional license complaint at some point in your career, and when you do so, the most important tip is to contact an experienced Chicago professional license defense attorney as soon as possible. Seasoned and knowledgeable counsel can be the key to resolving IDFPR matters early and cost-effectively so you can focus on your career instead of complaints.

Louis Fine: Chicago Professional License Defense Attorney

The moment IDFPR contacts you or you learn that you are under investigation is the moment that you should contact me. Please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.

It Could Happen to You: Understanding IDFPR Sanctions

sanctionsIn recent posts, we’ve discussed the investigations and disciplinary proceedings which the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) conducts when a professional’s license comes under its scrutiny.

At various points in these processes, complaints may be dismissed or matters resolved without the imposition of any sanctions or other actions which could damage the licensee’s career or reputation. But in many cases, the IDFPR may conclude that disciplinary action is warranted. What that action may be, what it means, and how it may impact your life and livelihood can vary wildly. If you receive an IDFPR complaint or are facing administrative proceedings, it is crucial that you understand the potential consequences the IDFPR can impose if they find that your conduct merits it.

The following are some of the possible sanctions the IDFPR can levy on professional licensees:

  • Reprimand. While a reprimand will not limit your ability to work or practice, it may require monitoring and is an official public record of discipline.
  • Probation. If you are placed on probation, you will be able to continue working or practicing subject to specific conditions and limitations established by the Department. As with probation in the criminal justice system, a violation of any of the imposed terms will create further problems potentially involving further discipline. The probation term could be for a set period which will automatically expire providing all conditions were complied with or it could be for an indefinite time, requiring that the licensee petition the board to terminate the probation.
  • Suspension. If your license is suspended, you are prohibited from working in your profession during the suspension term. As with probation, the duration of suspension can be set or indefinite.
  • Summary or Temporary Suspension. If the Department determines that a licensee’s continuation in practice poses an imminent danger to the public, it can take immediate action by summarily or temporarily suspending a license. The license remains suspended pending a hearing on the case
  • Revocation. If the Department revokes your license, you cannot work or practice in your chosen profession until further notice. If no term is stated, you must wait a minimum of three years before you can file a Petition for Restoration.
  • Refusal to Renew. Licensees who are refused renewal are ineligible to renew their license and are prohibited from practice after the expiration of the date of their license, though they may file a Petition for Restoration.
  • Fines. A monetary penalty can be levied alone or in conjunction with any of the foregoing sanctions.

If the Department is seeking any of these sanctions against you or offers to resolve your matter through a consent order in which you agree to the imposition of a specific penalty, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced Chicago professional license defense attorney if you haven’t done so already. You need to fully understand the implications of any possible sanctions so you can make an informed decision about how to proceed. Your future is at stake; it is no time to go it alone.

Please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.

Your Career in the Crosshairs: The Perils of IDFPR Disciplinary Proceedings

disciplineAllegations of professional misconduct made to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) are a dime a dozen. Any disgruntled client, customer, or patient can claim that you wronged, harmed, or otherwise treated them in an unprofessional manner worthy of investigation and punishment.

But these claims, as well as allegations of wrongdoing submitted to IDFPR by other licensees or law enforcement agencies, remain mere allegations until the IDFPR’s Investigations Unit determines that there is sufficient factual evidence to support the claim against you. If they reach that conclusion and submit the matter to the appropriate Department prosecutions unit for the initiation of disciplinary proceedings, those mere allegations against you explode into existential threats to your license and career. Understanding this threat, and retaining an experienced IDFPR defense attorney to defend you, are critical if you wish to continue making a living in your chosen profession.

Pre-Hearing Steps

We previously wrote about the IDFPR’s process of evaluating and investigating complaints prior to the start of an administrative proceeding which can conclude with disciplinary action, including the suspension or revocation of your professional license. Here’s what happens next:

  • Formal complaint. As opposed to a complaint submitted to the IDFPR about you, this is a complaint submitted to you by the IDFPR. It sets forth the factual and legal basis for seeking disciplinary action against you and advises you when you and your attorney must appear and file an answer to the charges. Failing to respond or appear can result in a default judgment which can, in turn, result in the loss of your license without you having an opportunity to defend yourself.
  • Informal conference. After you respond to the charges in the complaint, there is usually a meeting between yourself, your lawyer, and Department attorneys to informally negotiate and discuss your case to determine if a resolution can be reached before a formal hearing.
  • Preliminary hearing. If the parties cannot reach an early negotiated resolution, a preliminary hearing will be held at which time a date will be set for rulings by the Administrative Law Judge on any preliminary motions, such as those relating to discovery, evidence, and other pre-trial issues.

Unfair Discovery Process

During this time, both sides will be busy preparing their case for a formal hearing. This includes gathering the evidence and testimony that will support their respective positions, much as parties do in civil lawsuits. But unlike civil suits, where the judge gets to determine the parameters of discovery, the extent of allowable discovery in IDFPR proceedings is determined by the very people who are prosecuting the case.

Once the Department provides names of witnesses, including the name of any individual whose complaint may be at the heart of the proceedings, a respondent cannot take their depositions unless the Department’s attorney agrees – which rarely, if ever, happens. If the Department nixes a deposition request, that means the respondent will not be able to confront that witness, learn what his testimony will be, or attack the veracity of his testimony until the actual hearing. That is manifestly unfair and leaves a respondent and their attorney fighting with one arm tied behind their back.

The Formal Hearing

Ultimately, in lieu of a settlement, a formal hearing will be held during which each party makes opening and closing statements, the Department presents a case in chief, and you and your attorney will present your defense, much like in a trial.

The individual presiding over your case, the hearing officer, is usually an attorney charged with presiding over the proceedings fairly and objectively without favoritism or bias. The problem is the hearing officers are not independent. They are employed and paid by the IDFPR, just as the prosecuting attorneys are. This can make an already perilous process even more so.

Once the formal hearing concludes, the hearing officer or administrative law judge will present his or her findings, conclusions, and recommendations to the Director of Professional Regulation, who will determine the nature and extent of sanctions against you, or decide that no sanctions are warranted at all, if that is supported by the report they receive after the hearing. You will receive a copy of the report as well and have 20 days from the date the notice is mailed to file a motion for rehearing. Once the Director issues his order as to disciplinary action, you have 35 to file an appeal in circuit court.

If you receive a formal IDFPR complaint, the two most important things you can do are not panic and then call an experienced Chicago professional license defense attorney as soon as possible.

Please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.