Licensed professionals – including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, certified public accountants, therapists, attorneys, architects and engineers – are held to high standards. They have difficult jobs to begin with. Their positions often require constant vigilance and the exercise of professional judgment in navigating gray areas. They must adhere to the ethical and legal rules that apply to their particular line of work, which can amount to a complicated web of state and federal regulations. What’s more, they must uphold standards of professional conduct in their personal and work lives.

In many professions, the demanding nature of the work takes a toll. It can lead to burnout, addiction and mental health problems. That, in turn, can trigger a downward spiral culminating in professional disciplinary proceedings.

In addition, some employers use reporting professionals to regulatory authorities as a threat or negotiating chip to manipulate physicians or other professional employees.

Understanding the stakes

As a professional, if you’re facing scrutiny for possible disciplinary infractions, the stakes are high. A license suspension or revocation can jeopardize your livelihood. Even a formal reprimand or reporting to a database can do serious damage to your professional reputation. In many cases, all it takes is a single mishandled allegation to bring a decades-long career crashing down.

Common disciplinary triggers

Disciplinary proceedings can involve a wide range of allegations. The most common include:

  • Patient abandonment
  • Negligence or incompetence
  • Criminal convictions (including DUI)
  • Sexual misconduct
  • Malpractice
  • Substance abuse
  • Fraud
  • Financial missteps
  • Privacy breaches, such as HIPAA
  • Ethical violations

Depending on the nature and severity of the allegations, the potential outcomes could range from a public or private reprimand (essentially, a warning) to license suspension or full-fledged revocation.

The importance of early action

Often, it starts with a complaint, which triggers a disciplinary investigation. At this early stage in the process – or as soon as you have any belief that an employer or colleague may report you – you have an invaluable opportunity. By taking proactive action with the help of an employment attorney, you may be able to dissuade an employer from making a report against you, at least minimize the damage or even avoid disciplinary action altogether.