Schedule of Procedures for Code Violations (Revised, 2009)

1.  Any individual, whether an AAPOR member or not, may submit a written complaint concerning a possible violation of the AAPOR Code of Professional Ethics and Practices to the Standards Chair. The procedures hereafter described will apply to all such written complaints received by the Standards Chair.

1a. Complaints must be made in writing on an AAPOR Standards Complaint Form and must include (i) a statement describing the alleged action or violation, (ii) the section of the Code alleged to be violated, (iii) the date or dates when the alleged violation occurred, (iv) the name(s) of the individual(s), firm(s) or organization(s) alleged to be in violation, and (v) the signature (original or electronic) of the complainant along with his or her contact information, including telephone number, postal address, and e-mail address.

1b. The complaint may name any individual (regardless of whether he or she is a member of AAPOR), group of individuals, firm(s), or organization(s).

1c. The written complaint shall be accompanied by all available relevant evidence.

1d. At the discretion of the Standards Chair, any duly appointed member of the Standards Committee may be given confidential access to a received complaint, unless that Standards Committee member, or his or her organization, is the source or subject of that complaint. If the Standards Chair and Associate Standards Chair are thereby excluded, the Council shall appoint a Chair pro tem for that particular complaint.

1e. The complaint form and all related materials prepared for Council, the Standards Committee, and the Evaluation Committee (if one is appointed as provided in section 4 below) will be kept confidential, and all Council, Standards Committee, and Evaluation Committee discussions related to the specifics of the complaint will be treated as privileged communication.

2. Within forty-five (45) days of receipt of a complaint, the Standards Chair shall decide, with the concurrence of the Associate Standards Chair or one other member of the Standards Committee, whether or not any official action is warranted.

2a. The Standards Chair may request assistance from the source or subject of the initial complaint, or use any other channels deemed helpful in recommending a course of action to Council.

2b. Based on information received, the Standards Chair may bring additional allegations of Code violation directly to Council. 

2c. In response to written complaints alleging that the Standards of Minimum Disclosure have been violated, the Standards Chair may request that the subject disclose the requested information prior to recommending a course of action to Council.  If the requested information is provided to the Standards Chair, the Standards Chair may provide that information to the source of the complaint and may recommend that Council take no official action.

2d. If no official action is to be recommended by the Standards Chair, he or she shall prepare a brief written report to Council, including the original complaint form and setting out the reason(s) why no action is indicated.

(1) If Council agrees with this opinion at its next regularly scheduled meeting, or after being polled by phone, e-mail, or other electronic means, the source of the complaint shall be promptly notified as to the final disposition of the complaint.

(2) If Council does not agree with the Standards Chair’s decision, Council may call for clarification or direct the initiation of a full complaint review and investigation, as specified in sections 2e, 2f, and 3 below.

2e. The Standards Chair may be directed by Council to seek additional information and clarification about the alleged Code violation. In pursuit of this objective, the Standards Chair may request assistance from the source or subject of the initial complaint, or use any other channels deemed helpful in recommending a course of action to Council. The Standards Chair shall report on any additional information within thirty (30) days of such a directive from Council.

2f. The Standards Chair may recommend and a Council majority approve of (or independently direct) the initiation of a full complaint review and investigation. In determining this course of action, Council will consider all relevant information, including the severity of the alleged violation(s) and facts gathered by the Standards Chair.

3. If Council, by a majority of those voting, votes for a complaint review and investigation, the organization, firm or individual(s) who are the subject of the complaint shall be notified by the Standards Chair in writing within fourteen (14) days of Council action. Such notification will fully stipulate the nature of the complaint and shall include relevant portions of the Code and a copy of this Schedule of Procedures.  When the subject of the complaint is an organization or firm, the written notification will be provided to individuals directly related to the complaint allegations (when known) and to the head of the unit, entity, organization, or firm, as deemed appropriate by Council.

4. The investigation will be conducted by an ad hoc committee (hereafter termed Evaluation Committee), appointed by the Standards Chair subject to the approval of the Council.

4a. The Evaluation Committee will consist of no fewer than three and no more than five AAPOR members, one of whom Council will name as Chair. Neither the Standards Chair nor any other Council members may serve on this committee.

4b. The identity of the members of the Evaluation Committee will be known only to Council and to each other.

4c. No member of AAPOR shall serve on an Evaluation Committee in a matter where he or she or his or her organization is the source or subject of a particular complaint, or where his or her service could otherwise represent a potential conflict of interest in relation to the source or subject.

5. Within twenty-one (21) days of appointment, the members of the Evaluation Committee will receive all pertinent materials on the case that are held by the Standards Committee.  Within fourteen (14) days after the Evaluation Committee receives materials, the Standards Chair will, in writing, request that the source and/or the subject(s) of the complaint provide any materials deemed necessary by the Evaluation Committee and any materials or statements which the subject(s) deems necessary or relevant to a fair investigation.

5a. Copies of all such materials received will be sent to each member of the Evaluation Committee.

5b. Any member of the Evaluation Committee may request that the Standards Chair seek further information or clarification of existing information.

5c. In conducting its affairs, the use of electronic conferencing techniques (e.g., phone, email) by the Evaluation Committee, as needed, will be funded by AAPOR.

5d. The Committee may elicit and consider any evidence it deems relevant.

6. If the subject(s) of the complaint fails to respond to the notice provided under paragraph 3 or fails to forward all material requested under paragraph 5 or 5b within thirty (30) days of the notice or request, the Evaluation Committee will proceed, using the evidence at hand. If, however, the subject(s) of the complaint formally requests of the Standards Chair an extension of time, the Standards Chair may grant an extension in writing, upon determination that the extension is reasonable and necessary to compile all requested materials.

7. Within thirty (30) days of receiving the requested materials (or following the 30-day waiting period), the Evaluation Committee will complete a complaint review and investigation, reach a determination about the complaint, and will submit a written report to the Standards Chair. The complaint review and investigation will seek to determine the precise nature of the conduct that is subject to criticism and whether there is any factual basis to support the alleged misconduct. The Evaluation Committee must determine whether the information obtained may reasonably be interpreted to constitute a violation of AAPOR’s Code of Professional Ethics and Practices, which reflects generally accepted professional practices. The committee’s report will describe the steps taken in review of the complaint, include the determination and a specific recommendation for Council action, and conclude with one or more motions.

7a. Council action to be recommended by the Evaluation Committee may consist of, but is not limited to, any of the following:

(1) If AAPOR members or firms with AAPOR members as principals are subjects of the complaint:

a. Public or private exoneration;

b. Public or private censure, rebuke, admonition, or other notice that the subjects’ actions were inconsistent with AAPOR’s Code of Professional Ethics and Practices;

c. Suspension or termination of membership;

d. Termination of investigation, with no further action.

(2) If non-members or firms without AAPOR members as principals are subjects of the complaint:

a. Public or private exoneration;

b. Public or private censure, rebuke, admonition, or other notice that the subjects’ actions were inconsistent with AAPOR’s Code of Professional Ethics and Practices;

c. Termination of investigation, with no further action.

7b. Before recommending any censure or altering of membership, the Committee should consider the following criteria:

(1) The degree of severity of the violation(s);

(2) The subject’s history regarding other violations, as evidenced by public censures and other public actions taken by AAPOR;

(3) The impact of the violation(s) on the public opinion and survey research profession;

(4) The impact of any proposed sanction(s) on the subject’s ability to successfully participate in public opinion and survey research in the future.

7c. Notwithstanding other actions recommended, the Committee may recommend that a case study be prepared and publicized for the benefit of AAPOR members and other constituencies, with due regard given to the need to maintain confidentiality of the subject(s), information sources, and methods of investigation.

8a. The Standards Chair will provide the Evaluation Committee’s report to Council prior to its next meeting, together with such views, in writing, as he or she may have. The Standards Chair will also provide Council with the subject’s history regarding other violations and AAPOR’s responses (both public and private). At this meeting:

(1) The Council (with at least two-thirds of its members voting) shall move to accept, reject, or modify the report of the Evaluation Committee and shall move to accept, reject, or modify the report (if any) of the Standards Chair.

 a. If the Council’s decision exonerates the subject of the complaint, the Standards Chair will notify the subject(s) within fourteen (14) days and no further Council action is required.

 b. If the Council’s decision does not exonerate the subject, the Standards Chair will send notice of the Council’s decision to the subject within fourteen (14) days. The Standards Chair’s letter shall include written notification advising the subject (i) of the specific allegations and charges; (ii) that, within thirty (30) days of receipt he or she may request a hearing before the full Council; and (iii) that he or she will be given the right at said hearing to confront evidence and to refute all charges. The letter shall be mailed in such a manner that the delivery address and the name of the person taking delivery can be verified.

c. The Council may also decide to request modification to the report of the Evaluation Committee. If such a request is made by Council, the Evaluation Committee has thirty (30) days to respond to such request. The revised report is then resubmitted for consideration, following the steps outlined in 8.1.

(2) Within thirty (30) days of receipt of notice of Council’s decision (section 8a[1]b), the subject of the complaint may request, in writing, a hearing before the Council.

a. Such a hearing shall be held at a time and place scheduled by the Council, with at least two-thirds of its members in attendance.

b. Prior to the hearing, the subject of the complaint may request, in writing, to review all evidence used in the decision, subject to maintaining the confidentiality of the source of the complaint.

c. The President shall control the procedure at the hearing, including presentation of testimony and submission of written materials, but shall not be bound by legal rules of evidence or procedures.

d. Before the close of the hearing, the Council should consider the criteria in 7b above.  The Council should also consider the subject’s history regarding other violations and AAPOR’s responses (both public and private).

8b. Immediately following the close of the hearing - or, if no hearing is requested within the 30-day waiting period, at a regularly or specially convened meeting - the Council will make its decision (with at least two-thirds of its members voting), to accept, reject, or modify the judgment and recommendation of the Evaluation Committee or the Standards Chair.  If the Council decision calls for public action, the Council will decide on the form of that action (e.g., press release) and will decide what information, if any, to release to support that public action. 

8c. This decision will constitute the final action to be taken by the Council on behalf of AAPOR, except as allowed in section 7c. The subject of the complaint will be notified in writing of the Council’s decision. The source of the complaint will also be notified of the Council’s decision, except in a case where the Council decides on (1) private censure or (2) termination of investigation with no further action, in which instances the source will be notified only that Council has decided not to take any public action on the case. If the decision of the Council involves an action not listed in sections 7a.1-2, notification to the source of the complaint about that decision shall be as determined by Council in its sole discretion. These notices of the outcome will be issued in writing within thirty (30) days by the President of AAPOR, who also will be responsible for implementing the terms of the decision.

9. AAPOR shall have a Document Retention and Destruction Policy that provides for the systematic review, retention, and destruction of documents received or created in connection with the resolution of alleged Code violations.  These documents shall be kept confidential and shall be shared with future Councils only when necessary (e.g., as listed in sections 8a and 8a-2-d).  Council, Standards Committee, and Evaluation Committee discussions related to the complaint will be treated as privileged communication, and informal notes from such discussions shall not be retained.

10. Deadlines described in these procedures for actions by Council and the Evaluation Committee are guidelines for expeditious resolution of complaints.  Failure to adhere to these deadlines shall not result in immediate dismissal of the complaint or exoneration of the subject.

As revised, May 2009.