If you're a licensed occupational therapist in Pennsylvania, you've paid a high price to get where you are today. You've worked for years to get your undergraduate and master's degrees, done your fieldwork, and sat for the NBCOT exam to get your OTR certification. And yet, all that hard work could easily be jeopardized by an allegation of wrongdoing that seems completely unrelated to work. Being served with a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) is disruptive enough on its own by barring you from contact with your significant other and possibly affecting your custody rights. But unless you are proactive in fighting it, a PFA can also come back to haunt you professionally, resulting in an investigation by the Pennsylvania State Board of Occupational Therapy Education and Licensure. It could even result in having your license revoked.
Fortunately, if you are forward-thinking, there are steps you can take to avert this terrible outcome. The Lento Law Firm has put together the following critical information to help you know what to do if a PFA threatens your occupational therapist's license.
Protection From Abuse Orders in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) is designed to provide protection for alleged victims in cases of abuse, harassment, stalking, and other situations. A PFA prohibits the respondent (defendant) from contact with the petitioner (or plaintiff). A spouse, domestic partner, dating partner, cohabitant, or family member can file a PFA against you if they convince the judge that you are a threat. The PFA may restrict or completely ban you from contact with the petitioner, and if you have children with the petitioner, your custody rights could be impacted as well.
The PFA process in Pennsylvania
Most petitioners seeking protection will first request a temporary PFA, which, if issued by the judge, goes into effect immediately without the defendant's input. This temporary PFA can last up to 10 working days pending a final hearing. At this hearing, you can bring an attorney, present evidence, and call witnesses to back up your side of the story as you contest the PFA. At the end of the hearing, the judge will decide whether to dismiss the temporary PFA or issue a final PFA. If it is the latter, the PFA will remain in effect for a maximum of 3 years.
What Happens if You Violate the PFA
If you violate any of the PFA conditions, you could be charged with criminal contempt. If convicted, not only could you face up to 6 months in jail, but you'll also generate a criminal record which could raise concerns with the state licensing board, whether you are applying for a new occupational therapist's license, renewing an existing one, or currently practicing.
Will My PFA Show Up on a Criminal Background Check?
No. A PFA is a civil action, not a criminal action, and it can be in effect even if no criminal charges are filed. Therefore, PFAs are not included in criminal background checks. However, PFAs do show up in public court records—even in the case of temporary PFAs that have been dismissed or expired. These records could be of concern to the licensing board if they are accessed for any reason.
What Could a PFA Do to Your Occupational Therapist License?
The existence of a PFA can impact your ability to practice occupational therapy here in Pennsylvania. Even if no criminal charges or convictions result from whatever action prompted the PFA, it can indicate that you may have committed misconduct or crimes of moral turpitude. This could easily lead to disciplinary action from the state licensing board.
Here are a few ways that the State Board of Occupational Therapy Education and Licensure could be alerted to your PFA:
- A client, colleague, or another person with knowledge of the PFA could file a complaint to the board
- If you are convicted of contempt for violating the PFA, the resulting criminal record could trigger an investigation
- Your court records may be pulled by the board as part of another investigation, and they could see the PFA that way
If the licensing board initiates an investigation, and if they believe that the circumstances behind your PFA warrant discipline, they can call a formal hearing to decide whether or not to suspend or revoke your license.
Am I Guaranteed To Lose My Occupational Therapist License if the Board Disciplines Me?
It's possible, but it's not a guarantee. When deciding on a penalty, the board will take all circumstances and factors into account, including any brought to light by your attorney. They may choose not to revoke your license but instead impose milder penalties like license restrictions, fines, mandated counseling, formal reprimand, and so forth. However, be aware that any disciplinary action against you could affect your career negatively, even if you're allowed to keep your license. Disciplinary actions against your license are a matter of public record and can be viewed by any clients, patients, colleagues, or employers who decided to search your credentials.
How to Protect Your Occupational Therapist's License if Served with a PFA
There are many things you can do to protect your license and your practice if you have been served with a PFA. These options include:
- Contesting the temporary PFA before its finalization. You and your attorney can do this during the final PFA hearing. If you can provide evidence that the PFA is unnecessary or should not have been issued, the judge may dismiss the temporary PFA without finalizing it. This will reduce the likelihood that the board will be alerted.
- Appeal the PFA. If the PFA is finalized, you can file a Motion to Reconsider or file an appeal to Superior Court requesting that the PFA be overturned.
- Getting your PFA record expunged. Temporary PFAs can only be removed from court records if they are withdrawn or not finalized. While a PFA won't show up in criminal records searches (unless you're convicted for violating it), it may still show up in court records. If the court grants your request to expunge the temporary PFA form court records, it will eliminate all public mentions of it.
How to Respond if a PFA Threatens Your License
Hiring an attorney with experience in professional license defense is your best option to avoid serious consequences if the board raises questions or opens an investigation. The attorney can guide you through the investigation process, represent you before the board, and present evidence and arguments to demonstrate that the PFA does not affect your ability to practice as a therapist. They can also negotiate with the board to grant you leniency. This could make a big difference in your case's outcome and save you from losing your license.
If you're served with a PFA, taking proactive action is your best choice for avoiding having the PFA jeopardize your license. Joseph D. Lento is a Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer with additional experience in professional licensing defense. Take steps today to contest your PFA and protect your career. Call the Lento Law firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.