6 Hacks for Maintaining and Tracking P.E. Licenses is a guest blog
by Christian Haring of Harbor Compliance
Engineers are known for accuracy, attention to detail, and finding elegant solutions to complex problems. Yet when it comes to licensing, most firms lack a functional, comprehensive system to safeguard compliance. Every month, engineering boards report fresh citations for lapsed P.E. licenses. Unfortunately, once the lapse occurs, the damage is done.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to eliminate those risks and manage all aspects of your firm’s licensing efficiently and effectively.
1. Have a System for Tracking P.E. Licenses
With deadlines rolling around every one to three years, and deadlines following a different schedule in each state, it’s easy for renewal to slip by unnoticed. Reminder postcards from the state can get lost in the mail or laid aside and forgotten. Emails can get lost in an overflowing inbox. Without any dedicated system to track due dates and alert engineers to upcoming deadlines, engineers are at risk of a lapsed license. Once that happens, your firm is at risk of charges of unlicensed practice for each day that you continue to practice.
In a recent example, the California board revoked the license of a civil and structural engineer who missed every renewal date for a decade. He missed the first renewal by one week. The second by three weeks, and the next three by more than five months apiece. In each case, the engineer paid the late fee and reinstated the license. But after the last late renewal, the state issued a disciplinary order barring him from working in California and stipulating that if he ever applied to reinstate the license again, the board would charge him costs of $15,000.
That’s an extreme example. But it illustrates the importance of staying on top of what may feel like insignificant state paperwork. A central system that can track P.E. licenses for your engineers and provide automatic notifications of upcoming deadlines is an important first step in ensuring continuous licensing.
2. Include C.E. Tracking in Your System
Another aspect of licensing that creates a lot of risks is the failure to complete Continuing Education (C.E.) credits on time. It’s one thing to forget a license deadline and have to file a last-minute application. It’s another to make up 15 or 30 hours of C.E. in a weekend. When engineers are up against a renewal deadline and they’re scrambling to complete credits, or if they find at the last minute that they can’t document the credits they’ve completed, they’re in a tough position. If they simply mark the credits done, once again, the firm’s licensing is at risk.
A recent case from Texas illustrates the potential costs. An engineer certified that he had satisfied all 15 of the required continuing education credit hours on license renewal. When the board requested evidence of completed courses, the engineer failed to respond. The board ultimately levied a penalty of $4,000, a 6-month license suspension, and an 18-month probated suspension.
By equipping your P.E.s with a system that tracks C.E. for them, maintains their documentation in one place, and issues reminders on a schedule you control, you can take the burden of tracking off of your individual engineers, eliminate the last-minute scramble, and ensure their documentation is audit-proof.
3. Connect Your Workflows
Licensing is a multifaceted system of interdependent parts. Firm licenses (Certificates of Authorization, or COAs) are dependent on the active P.E. licenses of engineers in responsible charge. Yet in a typical firm, staff in administration or operations manage COAs, with no visibility into individual P.E. licenses. Contact information and other data on record with the licensing boards are maintained by human resources (HR). Business development and field staff are relying on information from all of these areas to make critical business decisions.
For example, a principal who is also an engineer in responsible charge in one of your states of operation moves to a new home. HR recorded the change and entered into the company’s shared drives and payroll system, but that’s where it ends. Had there been a mechanism to alert staff handling COAs of the change, the licensing board, and secretary of state could have been notified. They’re using a spreadsheet to track licensing.
Firms need software to connect those disparate events. In this case, the software would automatically alert all stakeholders of any changes in employee status recorded by HR that affect the company’s licensing.
4. Make the P.E. License and COA Connection
Connecting the various licensing stakeholders in your firm is especially important following the loss of an engineer in responsible charge. Firms should have a system in place to ensure that any changes in their status are reported immediately to staff who are managing firm licensing. The window to replace a qualifier is very short, generally 30 days. After that window closes, the firm is not authorized to practice until a replacement is named.
This is why it’s so important for business development and field staff, who are out there responding to proposals and providing services, to have full visibility into the status of P.E. licenses. As well as the firm’s COA. Whenever business development is out of touch or out of step with the firm’s licensing efforts, the firm is at risk. Take the recent case of a Missouri firm that submitted a proposal for an Alabama project. Someone complained that the firm was not licensed in Alabama. The firm’s license was approved just days later, yet the board levied fines of $2,175 for unlicensed practice.
Keep in mind that in engineering, discipline tends to spread. Disciplinary actions must be reported in every state where the licensee is registered. Imposing reciprocal discipline is authorized to many states. For example, an engineer was fined $3,100 for licensing violations in California. Over the next year, states added reciprocal discipline to the tune of an additional $9,875 in fines—more than triple the original fine.
5. Stay on Top of Requirements
In addition to connecting the dots between staff areas, your system needs to be connected to a reliable source of licensing information. Since state processes and preferences are continually changing, you need ready access to licensing requirements in every state where you’re offering or planning to offer services. In addition to renewal deadlines and C.E. requirements, this includes things like what kind of documentation is required with applications. What types of experience are acceptable, and what steps are involved? Software that is informed by accurate data on licensing jurisdictions nationwide reduces the need for independent research each time you contemplate a new jurisdiction. It also reduces the odds of errors and rejected applications.
6. Build in Redundancy
These systems allow you to manage “licensing” proactively and build in redundancy in case a key staff member is unavailable for some reason. Too often, firms have all of their licensing resources, access, and training invested in a single staff member. There’s no way to access records, see where you’re licensed, and keep the work flowing if the person is absent. If the person leaves, the firm is left without anyone who can ensure that licenses and COAs remain active.
In the age of the Internet of Things, and in a profession that prizes elegant solutions, why should your firm’s compliance rest on a postcard, or reside in a file drawer? And why should you be mentally tracking due dates for 2020 based on the first letter in your last name? There is a better way. All you have to do is solve for it!
If you would like to explore licensing software and service options tailor-made for engineering firms by Harbor Compliance, simply get in touch or give us a call, 1-888-995-5895. We’re glad to help.
Harbor Compliance is not an accounting or law firm and does not provide tax, financial, or legal advice.
About Christian Haring
Christian Haring is an Account Executive at Harbor Compliance specializing in professional licensing for engineering, architecture, and construction firms. With a focus on mid-sized and large firms, Christian understands the need for precision and clarity in managing multi-jurisdictional licensing. Christian’s core focus is providing compliance as a growth enabler for his clients. He is available to answer your questions at 717-298-8128 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
We would love to hear any questions you might have or stories you might share about tracking P.E. licenses.
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To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success