Understanding Your Rights

Practicing A Trade Without A License: A More Serious Crime Than You May Realize

The recent case of a Florida teen who was arrested for practicing medicine without a license brings to light an issue that can, surprisingly, be more complicated than most people realize. People who have no intention of breaking the law can run afoul of occupational licensing laws in a variety of occupations–from electricians and contractors to hair braiders and nail technicians. This is what you should know.

The laws can be convoluted and unexpected.

Occupational licensing requirements are supposed to be for the protection of the consumer. The idea is that the consumer needs to have some way of knowing that his or her needs will be met with reasonable skill and safety. After all, nobody wants a doctor without proper training (as measured by his or her degree and ability to qualify for a license from a regulating agency) providing his or her medical care. 

However, the laws don't always seem to line up with that reasoning. For example, in Ohio, an EMT-Basic certification can be had after only a single course of study, after which the student can acquire a license from the state. Yet, they are regularly faced with life-threatening situations. However, in order to get a license to braid hair, a resident of Ohio has to log 450 hours of "natural hair care education" before he or she can ply the trade.

Adding to the confusion, the laws of each state regarding occupational licensing are unique. If you move to a new location from an area of the country (or from outside of the U.S.) where a license isn't required for your particular trade, you may not even think to inquire if you need permission to practice.

You can break the law even if you do have a license.

In reality, who exactly needs a license to do what for a living may be dictated by the interests of industry groups that want to control how much competition they might face. That can put otherwise honest people on the wrong side of the law very easily. 

For example, a semi-retired veterinarian in Texas who began to charge a small fee for answering detailed questions online from worried pet owners was informed that he was suspected of violating the state's Veterinary Licensing Act, which prohibited him from treating patients by phone or electronic means. A North Carolina blogger who offered his advice to others who wanted to try the diet that he credited for curing his diabetes found himself threatened with charges for practicing nutrition without a license.

The penalties for practicing without a license can be severe.

Just like the occupational licensing laws themselves, the penalties you could face for violating those laws can vary widely. You could face serious fines, lose your business, be forced to repay your customers through restitution, or even face jail time. For example, in Iowa, an unlicensed hair braider can face up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine. 

Because of the serious nature of the penalties you could face, if you're confronted with charges that you're practicing any trade without the proper license, talk to an attorney today. Click here for more info.