Certified Registered Nurse Practitioners and PFAs

Being served with Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) in Pennsylvania can have far-reaching impacts on a person's life beyond the order itself. For a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner (CRNP), the impact can also extend to limiting one's ability to work. A PFA not only bars you from contact with the person who requested it, but it could affect your child custody/visitation rights, force you to change your daily routines, force you to leave your home, and possibly even trigger disciplinary action from the Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing against your license.

The Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing maintains rigorous professional and excellence standards for its licensees. The presence of a PFA effectively challenges these criteria because it suggests that someone felt you were unsafe enough to seek government protection against you. The board reserves the right to revoke or suspend the certification and/or license for any nurse practitioner for any negative action taken against them which is substantially related to their practice. Even if the PFA is ultimately vacated, and even if you ultimately aren't convicted of any crime, the very fact that a PFA existed has the potential to harm your career.

The news is not all bad, however. There are proactive measures you can take to minimize the damage to your CRNP license if you happen to be served with a PFA. The Lento Law Firm has provided the following critical information to inform you of the ramifications of a PFA when it comes to your license and what you can do to protect your career as a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner.

Protection From Abuse Orders in Pennsylvania

A Protection from Abuse Order is a civil court order which prohibits the defendant (or respondent) from having any contact with the plaintiff (petitioner). Alleged victims frequently request this order in domestic violence cases or cases involving abuse, harassment, stalking, or other threatening behavior. A PFA is a civil action, not a criminal one, so you don't have to be convicted of any crime to have one served against you. The plaintiff simply has to convince the judge that there is a viable threat.

While a Pennsylvania PFA is in effect, you cannot have contact with the person who filed it against you. It may also carry additional terms that restrict other rights or privileges, including your custody or visitation rights of your children. Violating the PFA in any way is a crime that may result in jail time and a criminal record.

Who May Legally File a PFA Petition in Pennsylvania

Any person over 18 may file a PFA against any household member or someone with whom they are in an intimate relationship. This definition includes:

  • Spouses (including same-sex spouses)
  • Domestic partners
  • Anyone who is related by blood (e.g., parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, etc.)
  • Any person who is related by marriage (i.e., in-laws)
  • Anyone with whom you share parental responsibility for a child
  • Current and past intimate or dating relationships

The PFA Process In Pennsylvania

Most cases involving protection from abuse begin with the judge issuing a temporary PFA against the defendant at the request of the plaintiff. This order is issued "ex parte," meaning without your presence. When you're served with temporary PFA, you won't have the opportunity to contest it--it will go into effect immediately. You will then be informed of an upcoming hearing where you have the opportunity to defend your case.

When the temporary PFA is issued, the judge will schedule the hearing to be held within ten days. You will be allowed to appear together with an attorney at this hearing to tell your story and to challenge the validity of the PFA. The judge will decide at the end of the hearing whether to dismiss the PFA, uphold it, or modify the terms. If the temporary PFA is upheld or modified, it becomes a final PFA that remains in effect for three years.

What Happens if You Violate the PFA

Even if no domestic violence or other criminal charges are filed against you, the PFA may remain in effect because it is a civil matter. However, disobeying the terms of the PFA is a crime, and if you violate the conditions of the PFA in any manner, even inadvertently, you can be arrested and face criminal contempt charges. If convicted, you could be sentenced to up to six months in jail. Furthermore, the police have the ability to arrest you for violating the PFA purely on the testimony of the plaintiff, even if they don't observe the violation taking place. It is of critical importance to follow the terms of a PFA to the letter until it expires or is lifted.

How a PFA May Affect Your CRNP Certification and/or Nurse's License

The existence of a PFA could potentially impact your ability to practice as a nurse and/or a CRNP in Pennsylvania. If you already hold your license and certification, the PFA could trigger an investigation by the Board of Nursing against you. If you're applying for a license or certification, the board may deny your application based on the existence of the PFA.

CRNPs in Pennsylvania are expected to maintain certain standards of professionalism, ethics, and conduct on the job. The State Board of Nursing investigates allegations of misconduct, unprofessional behavior, or crimes of moral turpitude. This could lead to license suspension, revocation, and other forms of discipline. Although a PFA does not constitute a criminal conviction, it can be considered a compromise of the public trust. A PFA indicates that someone believes you are dangerous, and the court has issued an order to that effect.

These are just a few examples of how a PFA can put your CRNP license at risk:

  • A colleague, patient, or any other person becomes aware of the PFA and files a complaint against you with the Board of Nursing
  • You are convicted of contempt for violating your PFA, and the conviction is reported to the Board of Nursing
  • You are required to inform the Board of Nursing about your PFA and any associated arrests, and you fail to do so
  • The Board of Nursing examines court records (perhaps as part of an investigation) and discovers the PFA against you

How Might the Board of Nursing Respond to News of My PFA?

The context of the PFA will be reviewed by the Pennsylvania Board of Nursing. If they feel it is a violation of public trust, they can initiate discipline against your license. There are several steps to this process:

  • Investigation. The board will review the matter and decide if further action is required. The board might give you the opportunity to submit a written explanation of why the PFA was issued. They might also ask for documents or interview witnesses.
  • Consent decree. The board may allow you to forgo a formal hearing and instead offer to let you sign a consent decree. This is a formal agreement between the state and you in which you admit wrongdoing and voluntarily agree to the Board of Nursing's recommended actions.
  • Formal hearing. If the matter progresses to the hearing phase, you will appear before the Board of Nursing or before an Administrative Law Judge to answer the complaint against you. An attorney may represent you during these proceedings.
  • Board action. The Board of Nursing will decide whether to impose sanctions on you or penalize, including suspending or revoking your CRNP certification and/or nurse's license.

Is Losing My License to Practice a Foregone Conclusion if I Am Disciplined for a PFA?

No. The board will take circumstances into account when determining what penalties will be imposed. For example, if the PFA was triggered in part by extenuating circumstances like substance abuse, the board might allow you to complete an approved treatment program in lieu of disciplinary action. They may also decide on lesser penalties, such as fines, a formal reprimand, or placing certain restrictions on your practice. However, if the Board of Nursing believes you are not honest or forthcoming during the investigation, they are more likely to suspend or revoke your license and/or certification.

Could a PFA Impact My Nursing Career Even if I Am Allowed To Continue Practicing as a CRNP?

Yes, it could. First, any disciplinary action taken by the board, no matter how lenient, will be visible on your public professional record, even if your practice is allowed to continue. These records can impact your credibility with patients, clients, colleagues, and potential employers. Additionally, the PFA will also appear in court records which may be available for public viewing.

Can My PFA Be Found on a Criminal Background Search?

No. The PFA is a civil order. It does not appear on your criminal history unless it has been violated, in which case a criminal contempt conviction could be found on your criminal history. However, the PFA is part of public court proceedings and could be discovered in a court records search. If the State Board of Nursing pulls these files, this can be a problem.

Will My Final PFA Remain Visible in Court Records After It Expires?

Yes. The PFA will remain in court records indefinitely unless you file a successful petition to expunge the record.

Although I Was Served a Temporary PFA, It Was Not Finalized. Is This Still a Matter of Public Record?

Yes. A record of the temporary PFA will likely be contained in civil court records, so if the Board of Nursing decides to search these records, they may see it. However, a PFA (temporary or final) will not appear in standard background checks.

Can the Board of Nursing Take Action Against Me if My PFA Is Withdrawn or Vacated?

Yes, at least theoretically. The Board of Nursing is responsible for protecting the public by only granting licenses to qualified and worthy individuals. Your trustworthiness may be questioned if you have any PFA. If you are ultimately exonerated, it is easier to give a convincing explanation to the board regarding the incident, but if the board sees the PFA as a red flag--even if it is no longer in effect--they still have the right to investigate and discipline.

What Can I Do To Keep a PFA Order From Negatively Affecting My CRNP License or Certification?

There are several steps you can take to protect your career as a CRNP if someone files a PFA against you. A skilled attorney will be able to advise you on the best course of action for you, but here is a brief overview of the options.

Contest the Protection From Abuse Order

Although temporary PFAs are immediately effective and usually can't be reversed, you can contest the PFA within ten working days at the official PFA hearing. You can appear with an attorney, present your case, and argue against the finalization of the PFA. You can present your evidence and even cross-examine the plaintiff's witnesses. The judge will not make the PFA final if your attorney can convince him that it is unnecessary or incorrectly imposed. The temporary PFA will still be visible in court records, but the Board of Nursing will likely not seek out these records unless it has specific reasons for doing so. If the Board of Nursing does have any concerns, it's easier to alleviate those concerns if the PFA was never finalized.

Enter Into a Consent Agreement

Another option to avoid a final PFA is to offer to enter into a consent agreement (or consent decree) with the plaintiff. A consent agreement is a formal agreement between you and the plaintiff where you agree to have no contact or limited contact, along with any other express conditions, in lieu of a final PFA. Consent decrees are beneficial in that they do not constitute an admission of guilt on your part, plus the absence of a PFA means the judge never determined that abuse took place...and therefore, there is no final PFA on your record to haunt you later.

Appeal the PFA Order

You have the right to appeal a final PFA. You can do one of the following:

  • File a Motion to Reconsider within ten days of receiving the finalized PFA. This motion will be filed with the same court that decided your case. Your attorney will present arguments as to why the judge should not have issued the PFA.
  • Submit a formal appeal to the Superior Court within 30 days. Your attorney must present arguments describing the presiding judge made a mistake in law or a mistake in fact. If the judge of the Superior Court agrees, the PFA can be overturned.

Keep in mind that the majority of appeals against finalized PFAs fail. Your attorney will need to present a compelling argument. However, since the PFA could have a major impact on your CRNP license, it might be in your best interests to explore all options. Again, overturning a final PFA won't erase it from court records, but you may be able to have the record sealed, so it doesn't appear on background checks.

Have the Final PFA Vacated

A final PFA may be vacated (rescinded) by a judge before it actually expires. In Pennsylvania, only the petitioner can put in the request to have a PFA vacated--for example if they have had a change of heart or decide you are no longer a threat. Since your PFA may forbid you from having a conversation with the petitioner, it can be challenging to convince them to request that the PFA be vacated. However, an attorney might be able to offer suggestions about how to get a PFA vacated in a way that does not violate the terms of the PFA.

Have Your PFA Record Expunged

A final PFA is noted on court records automatically and indefinitely, regardless of whether you did anything wrong or even if the PFA was ultimately rescinded. However, an attorney can petition the court for expungement of a temporary PFA from court records to avert any issues with your licensing board.

The expungement of PFA records in Pennsylvania is currently more complex than that for criminal offenses. A court decision in Carlacci v. Mazaleski states that temporary PFA records can only be expunged in two circumstances: a) If the PFA petition is dismissed, or b) if the petitioner withdraws the PFA petition (e.g., if they have changed their mind or you are able to reconcile). Your record cannot be erased if your PFA is final.

There is no automatic expungement of any PFA, and if you petition the court, there is no guarantee that your expungement will be granted. If your attorney succeeds in petitioning the court for an expungement, all mentions of the PFA will be removed from databases and court records. This will reduce the chances that it will alarm the State Board of Nursing.

Directly Manage the PFA Issue With Your Licensing Board

Once a PFA has been issued, it is difficult, if not impossible, to remove from court records. If this is the case, and if it triggers an investigation by the Board of Nursing, the best way to protect your career as a CRNP is to address the board's concerns directly. A professional license defense lawyer can help you with this process. A skilled lawyer can help you navigate the investigation and disciplinary process, negotiate directly with the board on your behalf, and present evidence and arguments to support the conclusion that the PFA will not impact your ability to carry out your duties safely as a CRNP. The attorney can also present evidence if the PFA was unfairly issued or dismissed. An attorney can help to avoid disciplinary actions by the Board of Nursing in many cases.

A Protection from Abuse Order may cause issues for your CRNP licensure in Pennsylvania, but it does not have to signal the end of your career. With the help of a Pennsylvania professional license defense attorney, you can take proactive steps to avoid penalties by the Board of Nursing, thereby keeping your licensure and certification intact. On the other hand, if you're served with a PFA, the worst choice you can make is to do nothing. The Board of Nursing takes allegations of wrongdoing and abuse very seriously, so passivity could lead to your license being suspended or revoked.

Joseph D. Lento is a skilled attorney who has years of experience, not only in contesting PFAs but also in helping licensed professionals facing board disciplinary action. Protect your career as a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner by taking proactive steps today. Call the Lento Law firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.

Meta Title: How a Protection from Abuse Order Can Affect Your CRNP License

Meta Description: A PFA in Pennsylvania can put your CRNP license at risk. Call 888-535-3686 for help now.

PFAs and Licensed Social Workers in Pennsylvania

Becoming a licensed social worker in Pennsylvania was no small feat for you. After investing years of time and tens of thousands of dollars to earn a master's or doctoral degree in social work, you had to sit for a grueling examination to become licensed in the State of Pennsylvania. Then, to maintain that license, you must complete at least 30 hours of continuing education every two years. Suffice it to say you've paid a high price for your professional license. And yet, a single allegation of misconduct could potentially put that license in jeopardy. Being served with a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order, for example, carries huge implications for your career, possibly resulting in disciplinary action against your license.

The Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage & Family Therapists and Professional Counselors holds its licensees to high ethical, professional, and even moral standards. These standards are effectively called into question by the very existence of a PFA because it suggests that someone considered you unsafe enough to request government protection. If the board launches an investigation, it could ultimately result in losing your license. Even if the PFA is ultimately vacated and you are not convicted of any crime, it could still do harm to your career.

The good news is that you are not powerless in this situation. If you are served with a PFA, there are steps you can take proactively to reduce the damage to your social worker's license. The Lento Law Firm has compiled the following critical information to help you understand the implications of a PFA on your license and how you can protect your career as a licensed social worker.

How PFAs Work in Pennsylvania

A Protection from Abuse order is a court order that prohibits the defendant (or respondent) from having any contact with the plaintiff (petitioner). PFAs are designed to protect victims of domestic violence, harassment, stalking, abuse, or other threatening behaviors. PFAs are civil actions, and you don't need to be charged with any crime to be served with one. The plaintiff must simply convince the judge that you pose a threat to their safety.

While the PFA is in force, your contact with the petitioner will be severely limited or completely prohibited. Additional terms may be added to the PFA that limit your rights and privileges, such as your visitation or custody rights. If you violate the terms of the PFA in any way, you could face charges resulting in a criminal record if convicted.

Persons Who May Legally File a PFA Petition in Pennsylvania

Anyone aged 18 and over may request a PFA against any household member or anyone with whom they are intimately related. This includes:

  • Spouses (including same-sex spouses)
  • Domestic partners
  • Any person who is related to the petitioner by blood (e.g., parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, etc.)
  • Anyone who is related to the petitioner by marriage (i.e., in-laws)
  • Anybody with whom you share parentage of a child
  • Past and current intimate or dating relationships

The Process of Obtaining a PFA in Pennsylvania

In most cases, when an alleged domestic violence victim requests protection from the court, the judge will begin by issuing a temporary PFA against the defendant. This order is made "ex parte," or without your presence," which means you are not notified. When you're served with a temporary PFA, you won't have the chance to contest it because it will take effect immediately. When you're served, you'll be notified of an upcoming hearing, at which time you'll have the opportunity to present your side of the story.

The final PFA hearing will be scheduled within ten days of issuing the temporary PFA. At this next step, you will be able to appear with an attorney to tell your side of the story and challenge the validity of the PFA before the judge. At the conclusion of this hearing, the judge will decide whether to dismiss the case or issue a final PFA. If the latter happens, the PFA will remain in effect for up to 3 years.

Consequences for Violating the PFA

It is of the utmost importance that you abide strictly by the terms of the PFA, even if you contest it and even if no criminal charges are filed against you. Any violation of the PFA's terms is a crime, and if you violate any aspect of the PFA (even inadvertently), you may face criminal contempt charges. The police may arrest you for breaching the PFA merely on the plaintiff's say-so--even if the police don't witness you violating it. If convicted, not only could you be sentenced to up to six months in jail, but you'll generate a criminal record that could haunt you for years and possibly cause additional trouble for your career.

How a PFA Could Negatively Affect Your Social Worker License

Licensed social workers in Pennsylvania must uphold basic standards of professionalism, ethics, and conduct while on the job. The Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage & Family Therapists and Professional Counselors must investigate any allegations of misconduct, unprofessional behavior, and/or crimes of moral turpitude. This could result in license suspension or revocation and other forms of discipline. While a PFA is not a criminal conviction, it does at least suggest wrongdoing on your part because it means a judge has reason to believe you are a threat. The board may see this as compromising the public trust where you're concerned--especially considering many of the people you serve as a social worker may be dealing with domestic violence issues of their own.

While a PFA doesn't guarantee that your license will be jeopardized, it certainly presents the possibility. If the licensing board is alerted of the PFA, this could trigger an investigation into your license, possibly resulting in suspension or revocation of that license. Likewise, the existence of a PFA could be a factor in the board denying your application for licensure in the state.

Here are just a few examples of how a PFA could put your social worker's license at risk:

  • A colleague, client, or someone else who is aware of the PFA files a complaint against you with the licensing board
  • You are convicted of criminal contempt of violating your PFA, and the courts report the conviction to the board
  • The board reviews public court records, possibly as part of another investigation, and discovers that you have a PFA on record

What Is the Disciplinary Process if the Board Takes Action Against Me Over a PFA?

The licensing board will review the context of the PFA to see if they believe it constitutes a violation of their policies or the public trust. If they decide to begin disciplinary proceedings, these are the likely steps:

  • Investigation. The board will examine the matter and determine if additional action is necessary. You might be allowed to explain in writing to the board why the PFA was issued. They may also request documents or interview witnesses.
  • Consent decree. If the board believes the PFA calls for disciplinary action, you may be allowed to skip a formal hearing and instead sign a consent decree. This is a formal agreement between you and the state in which you admit to wrongdoing and agree to the board's recommendations for disciplinary action.
  • Formal hearing. If the matter moves to the hearing phase, you will be appearing with the board before a hearing examiner to answer any complaint against you. During these proceedings, an attorney may be present to represent you.
  • Board action. Based on the hearing, the board makes a determination whether you are to be penalized. This could include suspending or revoking your license.

Is Losing My Social Worker's License a Foregone Conclusion if I Am Disciplined Over a PFA?

No, it's not. The board has numerous options for invoking discipline, and revoking your license is the worst-case scenario. Depending on the circumstances of your case, the board may temporarily suspend your license, place restrictions on your license, fine you, or simply place a reprimand in your file. They could also demand that you attend counseling or a treatment program as an alternative to discipline. But if the board suspects that you have not been honest or open during an investigation, they are more likely to suspend or revoke your license.

Will I Still Be Allowed to Work as a Social Worker in Pennsylvania if I Lose My License?

Technically, yes. The State of Pennsylvania doesn't specifically require social workers to be licensed in order to practice. However, any loss of your license becomes a matter of public record, so anyone checking your credentials will see that your license was revoked--and this could seriously affect their willingness to work with you.

Could a PFA Impact My Career in Social Work Even if I Don't Lose My License?

Yes, it could. First, any punishment handed out by the board will be noted on your public, professional record. These records can harm your credibility with patients, clients, coworkers, and prospective employers. Second, news often travels by word of mouth, so any news about your PFA could negatively affect your career.

Is a Criminal Background Check Going To Reveal My PFA?

No. The PFA is a civil order, not a criminal matter, so it won't appear on criminal background checks. However, if you violate the PFA and are convicted of criminal contempt, that conviction will appear in your criminal history. Additionally, there will be a record of the PFA in searchable court records. If the licensing board searches these records and discovers the PFA, this could be problematic for you.

Does a PFA Stay Visible in Court Records Even After It Expires?

Yes. The PFA will remain in court records indefinitely unless you file a successful petition to seal it.

A Temporary PFA Was Issued Against Me, but It Was Not Finalized. Does This Still Show Up in the Court Records?

Yes. While most people won't have reason to search these records, any PFA (temporary or final) appears indefinitely in public court records. So, while the PFA won't show up in standard background checks, the licensing board may still find a record of it if they search court records for any reason.

Could the Licensing Board Still Take Action Against Me Even if My PFA Was Withdrawn or Vacated?

Yes, at least theoretically. The board has the responsibility of protecting the public by granting licenses only to qualified and meritorious individuals. Even if a PFA was withdrawn, the fact that the PFA ever existed could call your trustworthiness into question with the board. It is much easier to explain the incident to the board if you were ultimately exonerated, but if the board considers the PFA a red flag, even if it is not in effect, they still have the right to investigate and possibly discipline you.

What Can I Do To Keep a PFA Order From Doing Harm to My Social Worker License?

While a PFA could do serious damage to your career as a social worker, there are still steps you can take to minimize the risk and mitigate the damage--especially with the help of an experienced Pennsylvania defense attorney. Here are some steps you can take:

Contest the Protection From Abuse Order

A temporary PFA is effective immediately, and it's usually not practical to try to contest it. However, you'll have an opportunity to contest the PFA at the final hearing within ten days. An attorney can accompany you to present your case and oppose the finalization. You can present evidence, bring witnesses, and cross-examine the witnesses of the plaintiff. If your attorney can convince the judge that the PFA was not necessary or was improperly imposed, the judge will not declare it final. Although the temporary PFA will remain visible in court records, the licensing board won't typically search these records without due cause. Also, it's easier for you and your attorney to alleviate the board's concerns about a temporary PFA that was never finalized than one that was allowed to become final.

Enter Into a Consent Agreement With the Plaintiff

A consent agreement is another option for avoiding a final PFA. A consent agreement is an agreement between you and the plaintiff in which you agree voluntarily to have limited or no contact with the plaintiff in exchange for withdrawing their request for a PFA. Consent agreements can be beneficial because they don't constitute an admission of guilt. Also, the absence of a PFA means that the judge has not determined that domestic abuse occurred, which is also easier to explain to the licensing board should any questions arise.

Appeal the Final PFA

If the judge issues a final PFA, you have the right to appeal it in one of the following ways:

  • File a Motion for Reconsideration within ten days after receiving your finalized PFA. The motion will be filed before the same court which decided your case. Your attorney will argue why the judge should not have issued a PFA.
  • Submit a formal appeal at the Superior Court within 30 days. Your attorney must present arguments that explain the mistake made by the judge. The PFA may be overturned if the Superior Court judge agrees.

Remember that most appeals against final PFAs are unsuccessful, so for the appeal to be practical, your attorney must be able to present compelling evidence that a mistake was made.

Have the Final PFA Vacated

A judge may revoke a final PFA before it expires. Only the petitioner can request that a PFA be vacated in Pennsylvania, but this could happen if the petitioner has had a change of heart or decides that you are no longer a threat. It can be difficult to convince the petitioner to request that the PFA be vacated because the PFA itself might prohibit you from reaching out to them. An attorney may be able to give suggestions on how to pursue having the PFA vacated in a way that doesn't result in you violating the PFA.

Have Your PFA Record Expunged

The final PFA is automatically recorded in court records, and it will stay there indefinitely and without regard to whether or not you were guilty of any offense. However, for temporary PFAs, an attorney can petition the court to expunge it from court files in order to avoid any problems with your licensing board.

At this time, it's more complicated in Pennsylvania to expunge a PFA record than it is to have many criminal offenses expunged. However, according to recent court rulings, a temporary PFA can be expunged from the record ONLY if the temporary PFA was dismissed or if the petitioner chose to withdraw the petition. If your PFA is final, your record cannot be deleted.

There is no guarantee of expungement of a temporary PFA, and the court has the right to deny your petition if you request an expungement. But if your attorney is successful, all mentions of the temporary PFA will be sealed from court records and databases, so it won't show up in records searches--and therefore, your risk of exposure to the licensing board goes down considerably.

Manage the PFA Issue Directly With Your Licensing Board

Despite your best efforts, there's always a chance that the licensing board will become aware of your PFA. If this is the situation, your best course of action is to address the board's concerns openly and directly, preferably with the help of an experienced professional license defense attorney. A good lawyer can guide you through the investigation and disciplinary process, negotiate on your behalf with the board, present evidence that the PFA was unfairly issued, and show the board how the PFA is no reflection on your ability to perform your duties as a social worker. In many cases, the assistance of an attorney can help you avoid disciplinary action by the licensing board--or at the very least, result in more lenient actions that don't jeopardize your license.

Although a Protection from Abuse Order can cause problems for your Pennsylvania social worker licensure, it does not have to signify the end of your career. A Pennsylvania defense attorney can help you take proactive steps to avoid penalties from the Board of Nursing and keep your certification and licensure intact. However, if you are passive and do nothing, the PFA could eventually result in allegations of misconduct and an investigation by the board, possibly resulting in having your social worker's license suspended or revoked.

If you are a licensed social worker and are issued a PFA, it is important to contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help you navigate the process of contesting the PFA and reduce your risks of trouble with the licensing board. Additionally, if you have been accused of violating a PFA, it is crucial to seek legal representation immediately. A lawyer can protect your rights and help you mount a strong defense.

Joseph D. Lento is a skilled Pennsylvania attorney with many years of experience both in defending those accused of domestic violence and in helping licensed professionals who are facing board disciplinary action. Take proactive steps to protect your license. Call the Lento Law firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.

Meta Title: How a Protection from Abuse Order Can Affect Your Social Worker License

Meta Description: A PFA in Pennsylvania can put your social worker license at risk. Call 888-535-3686 for help now.

PFAs and Physical Therapists in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, being served with a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) can cause chaos and disruption to your life in many ways. A PFA can bar you from contact with your spouse or significant other, force you to move from your home (while still paying the rent or mortgage), require you to change your routine to avoid seeing the person who filed the order, and in many cases even strip you of your custody or visitation rights.

But even beyond the immediate stress of these issues, a PFA can come back to haunt your professional life, as well--even years down the road. If you are a licensed physical therapist in Pennsylvania, for example, a PFA could raise red flags with the State Board of Physical Therapy, triggering an investigation. At worst, the PFA could cost you your license to practice physical therapy in the state.

While you have no control over whether a spouse or relative requests a Protection from Abuse Order against you, you do have options for protecting your career if it happens. If you are a physical therapist served with a PFA, the key to saving your license is to be proactive. The following information provided by the Lento Law Firm is vital for you to know about the ramifications of a PFA on your license and how to safeguard your career.

How PFAs Work in Pennsylvania

A Protection from Abuse order is a civil court order that restricts the defendant (or respondent) from contacting the plaintiff (petitioner). PFAs are intended to safeguard people who have been subjected to domestic violence, harassment, stalking, maltreatment, or other intimidating actions by spouses, domestic partners, or cohabitants of the home. You don't have to be charged with any crime to be served with a PFA; all that must happen is for the plaintiff to convince a judge that you are a danger to them.

While the PFA is in effect, your interaction with the petitioner will be severely restricted or totally prohibited. Additional conditions may be added to the PFA that restrict your rights and privileges, such as visitation or custody rights. If you violate the provisions of the PFA, you might face criminal charges, and a conviction could result in a criminal record.

Who Can Request a PFA in Pennsylvania

A PFA may be requested by anyone 18 years or older against any household member, spouse, or person with whom they are in an intimate relationship. This includes:

  • Spouses (including same-sex spouses)
  • Domestic partners
  • Any person related to petitioner by blood (e.g., parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, etc.)
  • Any person related to petitioner by marriage (i.e., in-laws)
  • Anyone with whom you share a child in common
  • Intimate or romantic relationships from the past and present

How PFAs Are Issued in Pennsylvania

In most circumstances, when someone alleging domestic abuse asks the court for protection, the judge will start by issuing a temporary PFA against the defendant, which will last for up to ten days. When you're served with a temporary PFA, it is issued "ex parte" (meaning without your presence or input), and you won't have the chance to contest it because it is effective immediately. Within ten days of the issuance of the temporary PFA, the judge will schedule a final PFA hearing, at which time you'll have the opportunity to appear with an attorney and present your side of the story.

At the final PFA hearing, you will be able to contest the validity of the PFA and present your case as to why it is unnecessary. You may have an attorney represent you, call witnesses, and cross-examine any witnesses brought by the plaintiff. At the conclusion of this proceeding, the judge will rule on whether to drop the case or issue a final PFA. If the PFA is finalized, it will continue in force for up to three years.

Consequences for Violating the PFA

It is crucial that you strictly adhere to the PFA's terms, regardless of whether you contest them and even if there are no criminal charges against you. While the PFA is not a criminal conviction, you could face criminal contempt charges if you violate any part of the PFA, even if it is accidental. You could be sentenced to up six months imprisonment if you are convicted. This could also result in a criminal record that could last for years and potentially cause you further problems in your career.

How a PFA Could Impact Your Physical Therapist's License

Physical therapy is an occupation that relies on public trust, especially considering that physical therapists are consistently in physical contact with their patients. The Pennsylvania State Board of Physical Therapy, therefore, holds its licensed practitioners to strict ethical and professional standards. To a physical therapist, the very existence of a PFA is a potential sign of mistrust because it means someone considers you to be a threat to their safety to the point of seeking government protection. Even if you don't get convicted of a domestic violence crime, the PFA itself could raise red flags with the licensing board.

The board is required to investigate any allegations of misconduct, unprofessional conduct, or crimes of moral turpitude. If the allegations are found to be valid, it could lead to license suspension, revocation, or other forms of discipline. Although a PFA does not constitute a criminal conviction, the board still may see this as a violation of the public trust.

Although a PFA does not guarantee your license will be in danger, it can increase the likelihood of that happening. If the licensing board becomes aware of the PFA, it could trigger an investigation and possible disciplinary action. The existence of a PFA may also be a factor in denying your application for a new physical therapist's license. Here are just a few ways in which the State Board of Physical Therapy could be alerted of a PFA against you:

  • A patient, colleague, coworker, or anyone else who is aware of the PFA could file a complaint against you with the licensing board
  • The board could review public court records, possibly as part of another investigation, and discover a record of a PFA against you
  • if you violate the PFA and are convicted of criminal contempt, the court will likely report the conviction to the board

If the Board Raises Concerns Over a PFA, What Is the Disciplinary Process?

The circumstances behind the PFA will be reviewed by the licensing board to determine if the PFA violates their policies or the public's trust. If they decide to initiate disciplinary proceedings, the process will generally follow these steps:

  • Investigation. The board will review the matter and decide if further action is required. The board may invite you to give an explanation in writing or in person as to why the PFA was issued. They might also ask for documents or interview witnesses.
  • Consent decree. The board may allow you to sign a consent decree instead of summoning you to a formal hearing if it believes that the PFA requires disciplinary action. A consent decree is a formal agreement between the state and you in which you acknowledge wrongdoing and accept the recommendations of the board for disciplinary actions.
  • Formal hearing. If the matter progresses to the hearing phase, you will appear before the board and before a hearing examiner to answer the complaint against you. You are also allowed to have an attorney represent you and plead your case during this hearing.
  • Board action. The board will make a decision based on the hearing whether or not disciplinary action is warranted. This could mean suspending or revoking your license.

If the Board Disciplines Me Over a PFA, Is Losing My License as a Physical Therapist a Foregone Conclusion?

No, it's not. Revoking your license is the worst-case scenario among many other options for discipline. The board may decide to mete out a more lenient action that would allow you to keep your license. For example, the board could place restrictions on your license temporarily, fine you, or place a reprimand on your file. As an alternative to discipline, they may also ask you to attend counseling or a treatment program for domestic abusers. If the board suspects you are not honest or open in an investigation, they will likely suspend or revoke your license.

Could My Career Still Be Impacted Negatively Over a PFA if I'm Allowed To Keep My License?

Yes, it could. First, the board is required to note any disciplinary action on your professional record, which is searchable by the public. These records could damage your credibility with patients, coworkers, and potential employers. Second, if word gets out about your PFA through other means, it could hurt your reputation.

Will My PFA Show Up on Criminal Background Checks?

No, it won't. As the PFA is a civil order, not a criminal one, it does not appear on criminal background checks. The exception is if you violate the terms of your PFA and are subsequently convicted of criminal contempt--which would then generate a criminal record.

While the PFA won't show up on standard background checks, a record of the PFA will be listed in publicly searchable court records. If the licensing board searches these records for any reason, they could discover the record of a PFA against you.

My PFA Has Expired. Can It Still Be Seen in Court Records?

Yes. A permanent record of your PFA will remain in court records unless you successfully file a petition to seal the record.

I Was Served With a Temporary PFA, but It Was Dismissed Without Being Finalized? Does This Also Show Up in Pennsylvania Court Records?

Yes. While most people will not need to look up these records, any PFA (temporary or permanent) will be visible indefinitely in public court records. As a result, while the PFA won't show up in standard background checks, if a licensing board searches court documents for any reason, it may still find a record of it.

Is It Possible That the Licensing Board Would Still Pursue Action Against Me Even if My PFA Was Dismissed or Vacated?

Yes, it's possible. The board is in charge of regulating the profession. It has the duty of safeguarding the public by licensing only qualified and deserving individuals. Even if a PFA was canceled, your trustworthiness with the board might be called into question because the PFA was issued in the first place--and they have the authority to investigate and discipline you on those grounds. That being said, it may still be easier to convince the board to drop the matter regarding a PFA that was rescinded versus one that remains in effect.

What Would Convince the State Board of Physical Therapy To Show Leniency Over a PFA?

First and foremost, the State Board of Physical Therapy is likely to take any allegations of domestic violence very seriously--and a PFA suggests domestic violence may have occurred. If you are investigated by the board, it will likely want to see evidence that you have taken steps to address the underlying issues that led to the abuse accusation in the first place. They may also be interested in evidence that shows that the PFA was issued unfairly or due to false accusations. The thing to remember is that the board's main priority is not to prove whether or not you ever committed an act of violence but whether you are currently trustworthy to hold a license as a physical therapist.

What Steps Can I Take To Protect My Physical Therapist's License if I'm Served With a PFA?

While a PFA may have a significant impact on your career as a physical therapist, there are still things you may do to minimize the danger and alleviate the harm--especially with the aid of a skilled Pennsylvania defense attorney. Here are some practical steps you can take to reduce the risk to your license.

Contest the PFA Order

Since a temporary PFA only lasts for ten days or less, it's generally impractical to try and challenge it. Your best bet is to formally contest the PFA at the final hearing before the judge. An attorney can accompany you to present your case and oppose the finalization. You can present evidence, bring witnesses, and cross-examine the witnesses of the plaintiff. If your attorney can convince the judge that the PFA was not necessary or was improperly issued, the judge either dismiss the temporary PFA or allow it to expire. Although successfully challenging the PFA won't remove it from court records, the licensing board is less likely to raise concerns about a temporary PFA--and even if they do, it's easier to assuage the board's concerns about a temporary PFA than one that was allowed to become final.

Have the PFA Withdrawn Through a Consent Agreement With the Plaintiff

A consent agreement between you and the plaintiff is an agreement in which you voluntarily agree to have limited or no contact with the plaintiff, and in exchange, they withdraw their petition for a PFA. A consent agreement is much preferable in these cases because you don't have to admit guilt, and the fact that the PFA was withdrawn indicates that the judge did not determine that you are a threat. A consent agreement greatly reduces the chances that you will come under scrutiny by the licensing board.

Appeal the Final PFA

If the PFA becomes final, you have the ability to appeal it in one of two ways:

  • File a Motion for Reconsideration. You will file this motion within ten days after the PFA is finalized. The motion will be filed before the same court which decided your case. Your attorney will present an argument to the judge as to why the PFA should not have been issued.
  • Submit a formal appeal at the Superior Court. Your attorney must file this appeal within 30 days of the finalized PFA. The appeal should present arguments that the judge made an error in law or an error in fact when issuing your PFA. The PFA may be overturned if the Superior Court judge agrees.

Remember that most appeals against final PFAs are unsuccessful, so for the appeal to be practical, your attorney must be able to present compelling evidence that a mistake was made.

Have the Final PFA Vacated

A judge can vacate a final PFA before it expires at the request of the original petitioner--for example if the petitioner feels that you are no longer a threat or otherwise has a change of heart about the PFA. Since the order itself prohibits you from contacting the plaintiff, convincing the plaintiff to petition the court can be a challenge. However, your attorney may have solutions for broaching this subject in a way that doesn't violate the PFA.

Have Your Temporary PFA Record Expunged

If your PFA is finalized, there is currently no way under Pennsylvania law to have it expunged from court records. However, in certain circumstances, you may be able to have a temporary PFA expunged by petitioning the court.

Ironically, it's currently easier to have certain criminal charges expunged in Pennsylvania than it is to remove a PFA from court records. But recent court rulings have determined that a temporary PFA can be expunged from the record if a) the temporary PFA was dismissed without being finalized or b) if the petitioner chose to withdraw their request for a PFA.

Even if a temporary PFA qualifies for expungement, the court has the right to deny your request for any reason, and expungement is certainly not guaranteed. But if your request is granted, the temporary PFA will be sealed from court records and databases, so it won't show up in searches.

Manage the PFA Issue Directly With Your Licensing Board

There is always the possibility that the State Board of Physical Therapy may become aware of your PFA despite your best efforts to avoid this outcome. If this happens, you should address the matter with licensing board directly and openly with the assistance of a licensed professional license defense lawyer. A good lawyer can help you navigate the investigation and disciplinary processes while negotiating for leniency on your behalf. Your attorney can also present arguments to show why the existence of the PFA is either unnecessary or irrelevant and that it has no bearing on your ability to perform your job in a trustworthy manner. With the help of an attorney, you may be able to avert disciplinary action altogether.

While a PFA can certainly cause problems for your Pennsylvania physical therapist's license, you are not without options. An experienced Pennsylvania defense attorney can help you to take proactive steps to challenge your PFA and hopefully avoid any repercussions from the licensing board. That said, if you are served with a PFA, the worst thing you can do regarding your professional license is to become passive about it. If the PFA is finalized and word reaches the board, it can lead to misconduct allegations and an investigation, which at worst could cost you your physical therapist's license. This is why it is crucial to consult an experienced attorney as soon as you are served with a PFA. Not only can a good attorney help you fight the PFA itself, they can also reduce your risk of getting into trouble with the licensing board.

As a Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney for many years, Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience defending those who are accused of domestic violence as well as helping licensed professionals who may be facing disciplinary action. Don't take unnecessary risks with your license. Call the Lento Law firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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