By Richard A. West, Esq.
Last week, the Division of Consumer Affairs (“the Division”) announced that the New Jersey Board of Massage and Bodywork Therapy (“the Board”) has permanently revoked the license of a massage therapist who engaged in inappropriate and unwanted sexual contact with a female client during a massage session at an Atlantic County spa. The massage therapist is barred from ever working again in the State of New Jersey under a Final Order filed by the Board, the third instance in 2020 of permanent revocation of the license of massage therapist due to sexual misconduct and the ninth such revocation in the past 12 months in the state of New Jersey. This action follows actions by other professional licensing boards and the Attorney General.
A rise in complaints about unwanted sexual contact in professional settings has prompted the Division to conduct an in-depth review regarding how its 51 professional boards address allegations involving sexual misconduct and abuse by its licensees and applicants to ensure uniform adoption of rules and best practices. The boards oversee approximately 720,000 active licensed professionals, from accountants and doctors to plumbers, veterinarians, and massage therapists. The current review is evaluating the license application screening process of each board, protocol for investigations of alleged misconduct and discipline and communications with complainants who report abuses by a licensee or applicant.
Following the latest license revocation in Atlantic County which the board deemed “so egregious and morally reprehensible, and so fundamentally at odds with anything that we would expect of a massage therapist that nothing short of permanent revocation would be sufficient to protect the public health, safety and welfare,” it has adopted new rules to help prevent and detect sexual misconduct and abuse in the industry.
Those rules, among other things:
- Require massage therapists to notify the Board of criminal, civil, administrative, and employment actions against them. Every licensee is required to notify the Board within 10 days of action against the licensee by criminal authorities, including an arrest, indictment, or conviction; within 10 days of the licensee being named in a civil, criminal, or administrative proceeding involving misconduct relating to his or her practice; within 10 days of disciplinary action by any state licensing authority; and within 10 days of action against the licensee by an employer based on client care concerns.
- Require massage therapists to report misconduct by others. Every licensee is required to report any incident or series of incidents that the licensee believes may violate the applicable statutes and rules, including violations by other massage therapists of the rules relating to sexual misconduct. Additional reporting requirements apply if a licensee possesses information indicating that another licensee or healthcare professional presents an imminent danger to the public or any individual.
- Protect minors from abuse. For clients under the age of 18, licensees need to obtain written consent of the client’s parent or legal guardian before providing massage or bodywork services. For clients under the age of 16, the client’s parent or legal guardian would need to be in the room while the services are provided.
This action by the Attorney General and the Massage Therapy Board is the latest in a series of actions taken against professional licensees relating to sexual misconduct. There is no question that this issue is at or near the top of the list in terms of enforcement targets. Practitioners must be vigilant in their compliance efforts, and ensure that they, and anybody working for or with them, are aware of their obligations. Given the focus of the authorities on this issue, all allegations of this nature are likely to be investigated, and the presumption I am seeing is that some type of discipline is likely, depending on the perceived severity of the situation. Practitioners must take proactive steps to protect their reputations, their licenses and their livelihoods.
As an attorney who represents licensed professionals under investigation for alleged disciplinary violations that can result in license revocation and the effective loss of career, I urge all licensed professionals to stay current about all rules and regulations required by their boards and to immediately seek legal counsel if accused of misconduct.
Brown Moskowitz & Kallen partner Richard A. West provides legal counsel to licensed professionals in the State of New Jersey. Should you have a question, you may contact Mr. West at (973) 376-0909 ext. 1126 or mobile: (973) 229-7928.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute, and does not constitute, legal advice.