The Strauss Blog

The Administrative Side of Member Ethics

Associations that are also credentialing bodies and regulatory colleges will have a Code of Ethics and require their association members to abide by this code in order to practice under their association or college’s certification or credential. In the case of regulatory bodies, the Code of Ethics is a formal document that defines ethical standards of practice set by the association’s Board of Directors. Standards of practice vary from rules and regulations regarding billing and invoicing, professionalism, consent and more.

Members of these associations or colleges are not only responsible for following and abiding by the Code of Ethics in their everyday practice, but they are also expected to report any unethical conduct they may observe or suspect of in other members of their association. Unethical conduct can also be reported to associations through means of client and insurance provider complaints. While the association’s Ethics Committee makes decisions about the course of each ethic case, it is the responsibility of the association coordinator to track and document ethical complaints and to be main liaison between all parties involved.

This blog will outline proper protocols and suggestions for managing ethical complaints, as well as the legal and administrative tasks that can accompany different scenarios.

Track Every Move

The most important and detailed part of managing ethical complaints is tracking the course of each case. Start by preparing two spreadsheets; one to be shared only with the ethics committee and the association management team, and one that can be shared with the Board of Directors (keep member names confidential in this one) at Board meetings. These spreadsheets should contain the following information:

  • Case number- makes it easy to refer to at a Board meeting
  • Type of ethical violation- as per the Code of Ethics
  • Member name (only in the version for the ethics committee)
  • Date complaint was received
  • Status of the case (open/closed)
  • Numbered updates for each case: Each update needs to be dated and each update needs to demonstrate progress in the case

It is crucial to update your spreadsheets as each case proceeds. Record every action. Record when a document was mailed to the complainant and/or member. Record when the association received a response from the complainant and/or member. Record decisions made by the committee and/or Board. Record discussions with all legal counsels. Staying on top of the spreadsheet will ensure that case actions, dates and decisions are accurately recorded. Always keep in mind that this spreadsheet could be used in legal proceedings if an ethics case were to advance to a disciplinary hearing.

Track Every Document

When a new complaint arrives at the association office, start the documentation and recording process right away. In addition to updating the spreadsheets, ensure that all documentation is properly labeled and stored in your association’s electronic filing system. Separate ethical complaints by year, then by association member name. Within each case’s file, label documents with the date received OR with the date sent, and with a brief description of the content of the file. For example, “J. Doe- original complaint, received May 5” or “T. Smith – case closed, emailed Nov. 17”. This way it will be easy to review and find files in the future.

On the topic of tracking documents, all documents regarding an ethics case must be sent by tracked/registered mail that requires a signature on the receiver’s end. It is critical to require a signature and to have the option to track mail so that the association can confirm that communications are reaching the intended receiver. If an ethics case resulted in a disciplinary hearing, the association must be able to prove that the member received their communications and that they cannot plead ignorance to the matter.

Stay Connected with your Ethics Committee

The Ethics Committee is made up of association members appointed by the board. They are chosen to sit on the committee because of their high professional standards and their excellent sense of judgement. The committee’s role is to establish which ethical standard(s) are being violated/breached and to decide on a course of action for the complaint. It’s important to develop a strong working relationship with the committee to ensure that cases do not go untouched due to a lack of communication. You can also use the ethics spreadsheet to ensure that cases do not fall through the cracks. If you notice that action has ceased or been slow on a case, connect with your ethics committee and review emails to figure out your next step.

Takeaways

Association members count on their Board, committees and association management company to run their association in a professional and ethical manner, especially when it comes to regulating member certifications and designations. The ethical conduct of members is a matter to be taken seriously, and it is the role of the association coordinator to manage these files and to ensure that cases are running smoothly. Working on ethics cases will encourage you to become comfortable with preparing ethical communications, communicating with legal counsel, enforcing deadlines and with tracking cases. Use these tips to stay on top of association ethics cases and to help make your association members feel like they’re working in a reputable and respected profession.