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Written April 13, 2017 by the Ethical Policies and Procedures Task Force of the Union for Reform Judaism, with portions adapted directly from the CCAR, ACC, and URJ employee ethics codes.
Adopted by the URJ North American Board of Trustees: 6/11/2017
Revised: 1/22/2018, 5/20/2018
If you have questions about the Ethics Code or reporting an ethics complaint, please contact the URJ Ethics Chair at ECChair@urj.org.
At the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), we hold ourselves to the highest standards of personal and professional integrity, moral conscience, and social responsibility. The first section of this document gives voice to those standards. The second section describes the structures and processes necessary to implement and enforce the Ethics Code with respect to volunteers and embed it into the culture of the URJ.
The Ethics Code concerns volunteers, as well as interactions between volunteers and employees. Employer/employee situations are governed by the URJ’s Employee Handbook as are disciplinary, supervisory and other matters.
In our work for the URJ, we pledge ourselves to be scrupulous in our adherence to this Ethics Code and to hold ourselves and our colleagues to the highest standards. At the same time, we feel called to heal brokenness and to seek to balance midat hadin (principle of justice) and midat harachamim (principle of compassion) in all we do.
What follows is a living document, which regularly will be updated and revised in the light of experience, to guide our conduct in serving the URJ.
We are obligated to conduct ourselves at all times according to the highest standards of moral behavior. This includes modeling Jewish values in our family, social and financial affairs. Whether in our work or personal lives, we must conduct ourselves with honesty and with respect for others.
1. Personal & Professional Relationships
Shared expectations of volunteers and employees working together at the URJ include:
If in working with another person one feels that these expectations are not being met, the first step should usually be to speak directly with that person about the matter. If this approach does not result in a satisfactory resolution of the problem, it should be brought to the attention of the appropriate supervisor, volunteer or professional, as the case may be.
URJ employees who feel that the unethical conduct of another is severe enough to constitute discriminatory harassment may report the matter to Human Resources or another appropriate person in accordance with the Employee Handbook without first speaking with the person engaged in the offending behavior.
2. Family Situations of Others
We have an ethical responsibility to protect others who appear to be victims of abuse or neglect. It is up to each individual to determine whether or not to report such matters. While reporting is typically not mandatory, other than situations involving abuse of a minor, anyone with a professional obligation to report circumstances of abuse or neglect should follow applicable professional guidelines.
3. Conflict of Interest
A conflict of interest occurs when one is in a position to influence decisions or outcomes on behalf of a party and such decisions or outcomes could directly or indirectly accrue personal benefit to oneself or one's family or friends.
A potential conflict of interest can be difficult to discern. We have a responsibility to consult others about any real or potential conflicts and help one another resolve any such conflicts.
Any real or potential conflicts of interest must be proactively and fully disclosed to the appropriate stakeholders. An individual having a real or potential conflict of interest must not engage in the decision-making process or otherwise attempt to influence outcomes with respect to matters as to which there is a conflict unless and until:
All URJ volunteers and employees must be familiar with and uphold the URJ’s Conflict of Interest Resolution and acceptance of gifts policies.
Members of the Oversight Committee are required to submit the annual certification form concerning Conflicts of Interest (attached as Attachment 1 to this document) to the Counsel of the URJ, who shall review all reportable relationships and report to the URJ Board Chair and President.
4. Inclusion / Discrimination
The Reform Movement has long advocated for equality and inclusion. Our Jewish values speak to the idea that each of us, created in God’s image, b'tzelem Elohim, has a unique talent with which we can contribute to the high moral purpose of tikkun olam, the repair of our world. Our obligation in our work for the URJ is to welcome all who desire to actively engage in the mission and goals of the URJ, and to assure that all who participate feel that their ideas and concerns can be openly stated and responded to with respect. Excluding anyone from our community based on race, age, sex, religion, disability, marital or veteran status, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender identity diminishes us and compromises our ability to fulfill our mission.
Discrimination against others based on any of those factors, or other legally-protected classifications, is prohibited. Discriminatory harassment and other offensive acts include any conduct, whether verbal, visual, or physical, which creates an abusive and hostile work environment, or which has the purpose or effect of interfering with an employee or volunteer’s work performance or development.
Congregations, donors, and volunteers support the URJ because they trust its leaders to carry out their responsibilities in accordance with Jewish values, to be excellent stewards of resources, and to uphold rigorous moral and legal standards of conduct around financial matters.
1. Financial Conflicts of Interest
As discussed in Section I.B.3 above, all undisclosed conflicts of interest are prohibited. With respect to financial matters, any behavior that calls into question one’s ability to act in the best interest of the URJ without regard to that person’s own independent financial or personal benefit, creates a potential conflict of interest that must be disclosed. This disclosure requirement includes, for example, ownership in, investment in, or a compensation arrangement with any entity with which the URJ has or may have a transaction or business relationship.
Accepting a bribe, a refund, a discount, or a payment in exchange for favorable action is prohibited. This obligation includes, for example, refusing bribes or gifts that are rendered to curry favor. In contrast, volunteers are not prohibited from accepting meals, out-of-town hospitality, or similar gifts from each other when motivated by team-building or friendship, provided that such gifts are not (i) excessive in value, (ii) otherwise illegal (iii) intended to seek favorable treatment or (iv) intended to induce or conceal illegal activity, breach of fiduciary duty or financial misconduct.
2. Resources and Records
Resources must not be misappropriated. All URJ assets must be used only for disclosed, legitimate, and intended purposes of the URJ.
Individuals who prepare, maintain, review or have custody of URJ records and reports should ensure that such documents are accurate and complete; that they clearly reflect the assets and transactions of the URJ; that they are safeguarded from loss or destruction; and that they are maintained in confidence.
Financial matters should be conducted, and records maintained in compliance with national, state, provincial and local laws, rules and regulations.
We are responsible for ensuring that personal and sexual boundaries are respected in our relationships with others. Bullying and sexual misconduct are both inconsistent with respecting the dignity of human beings. URJ volunteers are obligated to refrain from all such behaviors when interacting with other URJ employees, volunteers or program participants in URJ-related activities.
Bullying is unwanted, hostile behavior, either as a single act or repeated over time, with the intent to degrade, humiliate or oppress another person. It can include: verbal behavior such as making threats, inappropriate sexual comments, and taunting; social misbehavior like spreading rumors and purposeful exclusion; physical behavior that involves hurting a person’s body or possessions; or cyberbullying such as persistent unwanted texts or phone calls or posting private and personal information to social media. At the same time, honest criticism of one’s work and activities by a supervisor or colleague even if, sometimes, harsh is not bullying under this Ethics Code. Bullying often involves a real or perceived power imbalance such as using physical strength, access to embarrassing information, a position in an organization, or popularity in order to control or harm others.
2. Sexual Harassment or Misconduct
Sexual harassment includes, for example, unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome requests for sexual favors, and other unwelcome verbal, physical, or visual conduct of a sexual nature when:
The following categories of behavior are, by definition, unethical and never acceptable:
Confidentiality involves the preservation of privileged information, especially as it pertains to personal or private information about an individual — including employees, volunteers, and donors — the URJ, a synagogue or other sacred community.
Personal and financial information is confidential and should not be discussed publicly or disclosed to unauthorized individuals. Care should be taken to ensure that unauthorized individuals do not overhear any discussion of confidential information and that documents containing confidential information are not left in areas accessible by unauthorized persons or inadvertently shared.
On occasion, it may be appropriate and essential to break confidentiality so as to avoid physical or emotional harm to individuals at risk, particularly minors, or to report illegal behavior, such as fraud. All such situations and decisions rest with the URJ Board Chair and President, who may discuss such matters with the Counsel and consult other members of the URJ’s senior leadership and outside professionals before deciding whether disclosure of the situation is necessary.
URJ volunteers should demonstrate professionalism and good judgment when using any communication technology. Care must be taken to protect confidentiality when required. This is especially the case when using social media, including blogs, message boards, chat rooms, electronic newsletters, online forums, social networking sites, and other sites and services that permit users to share information with others.
1. Social Media
The URJ encourages its volunteers to make positive use of the internet and welcomes the dissemination of ideas that this mode of communication makes possible. Sharing URJ-created content in a positive way advances our mission. But we must avoid posting impulsively or without verifying information from third parties before posting it. In addition, URJ volunteers must remain aware that what they post on social media may have an impact on the URJ’s reputation and must recognize the difference between a professional and a personal presence on social media. Social media use should not interfere with one’s URJ responsibilities.
In addition to following the above guidance concerning social media, all email communications must be handled carefully to avoid unauthorized or inadvertent disclosures of confidential information, for example, by leaving confidential information on computer screens.
Viewing or sending pornographic jokes or stories on URJ communications systems is forbidden.
3. Intellectual Property
should recognize, respect and protect the intellectual property rights of the URJ and others. This obligation includes obeying copyright laws governing how published materials are used and distributed.
II. Implementation Structures and Processes
Effective implementation of the Ethics Code involves four related but distinct functions, all of which are within the province of a new URJ Ethics Council (EC), actively coordinating where appropriate with similar bodies established by the URJ’s partners and affiliates:
All URJ management, staff, North American Board (NAB) members, congregational presidents, and affiliate organization leadership will be informed of URJ ethics procedures and be instructed on how to handle inquiries about complaints and reporting obligations.
Persons receiving a complaint should respond compassionately but should not make judgments as to the existence or not of ethical misconduct. They should inform the complainant about the procedure for making a complaint and may offer assistance in reporting the matter to the appropriate entity, if needed.
1. Role and Structure of the Ethics Council
The URJ EC is composed of a Chair and 4-6 URJ volunteers (a majority of whom must be NAB members) chosen by the URJ Board Chair. In addition, the URJ Board Chair and the URJ Counsel, Associate Counsel and URJ HR Director serve as ex-officio members of the EC. The EC is responsible for carrying out the four functions described above — investigating/adjudicating; data collection; recommending revisions to the Ethics Code; and providing training and education. The EC may execute some of these responsibilities through subcommittees or task forces that include individuals, appointed by the URJ Board Chair, who are not members of the EC. To ensure prompt and thorough responses to complaints, the EC shall develop a group of trained URJ volunteers and professionals to conduct investigations. The EC Chair shall appoint select individuals, as needed, to investigate a complaint or, where warranted, select a team of individuals (usually not more than three) for that purpose.
2. Ethics Review Board
For purposes of reviewing EC decisions recommending the sanction of suspension for a stated period or removal from a URJ volunteer position, the URJ Board Officers shall be constituted as the Ethics Review Board (ERB). In addition, the URJ Board Chair may name up two additional NAB members to serve on the ERB.
3. Filing a Complaint and Self-Reporting
Parties to the complaint include:
The URJ has an open-door policy for internal reporting. A complaint may be filed by anyone having reason to believe that ethical misconduct has occurred, whether or not the complainant is the person affected by the conduct complained about.
For the EC to begin the investigative process, a complaint must be submitted to the EC Chair (ECChair@urj.org), and must include the names of all persons involved, as well as specific details of the alleged misconduct. Complaints may be filed anonymously, but the EC will not open an investigation with respect to claims that lack sufficient specificity or verifiable information.
If the complainant has contacted the EC Chair, a member of the EC, or a URJ officer, but is not willing to initiate a written complaint or wishes to withhold relevant facts, the EC Chair may, with the consent of two EC members, independently initiate an investigation of the matter reported by preparing written documentation of the complaint signed by the EC Chair.
Volunteers who, upon reflection, believe that they have engaged in unethical conduct are permitted and encouraged to report that fact, in confidence, to the EC Chair. The self-reporting of unethical conduct will not preclude the EC Chair, with the consent of two EC members, from initiating an investigation, and making an adjudication, as warranted under the Ethics Code.
There is no fixed limitation period barring the filing of a complaint with the URJ or preventing the EC from investigating alleged ethical misconduct. However, the lapse of time since the alleged misconduct and the respondent’s conduct during the intervening period shall be among the factors considered in deciding whether to adjudicate the matter and in deciding upon the sanctions to be imposed if the investigation proceeds and unethical conduct is found to have occurred.
The URJ will comply with all applicable legal obligations regarding matters covered by this Ethics Code. In addition, the URJ is committed to promptly investigating any reported ethical misconduct and requires all volunteers and employees to assist in such investigations. If a volunteer or employee believes that the URJ is not responding within a reasonable period of time, the volunteer or employee may bring the concerns to the attention of the URJ Counsel. In addition, the URJ has an obligation to report any suspected criminal activity to the proper authorities.
4. Confidentiality of Investigations
5. Initial Notification Concerning the Complaint
6. Reporter Protection
There may be times when a volunteer or employee learns of a situation that appears to constitute unethical conduct under the Ethics Code. The policy of the URJ is to encourage individuals to call to its attention instances of ethical misconduct by any of its employees or volunteers and, to that end, to protect from threats or retaliation any person who, in good faith, reports actual or perceived infractions of the Ethics Code.
Harassment or adverse actions affecting the employment or participation in URJ programs of any person who makes a good-faith report of unethical conduct under the Ethics Code is itself unethical conduct and, in the case of an employee, may result in discipline in accordance with the URJ Employee Handbook.
7. Investigation / Fact Gathering
8. Post-Fact Gathering Procedure
The decision of the EC shall be in writing and clearly set forth the rationale upon which it is based including the applicable section(s) of the Ethics Code. The standard for decisions is preponderance of the evidence, i.e., more probably true than not. In each case the EC shall keep a record of all aspects of the case including correspondence, interview notes, statements and the like. The decision should also include the date of the vote, the vote count, and the members of the EC who participated in the vote. All decisions must be made with at least a quorum of the EC present and voting.
The following describes the possible outcomes of the adjudicatory process and the provisions for reinstatement after a suspension or removal.
1. Dismissal of the Complaint
2. Sanctions if a Violation is Found
Depending on the severity of the violation and other attendant circumstances, the EC may reprimand, censure or recommend to the ERB suspension or removal of a respondent from the respondent’s volunteer position within the URJ and/or from participation in URJ-sponsored activities.
All parties are expected to cooperate with the EC throughout the process of investigation and adjudication. Failure to cooperate may be taken into account in deciding whether and how to proceed and determining sanctions, if any.
If the respondent fails to cooperate with the EC due to a concurrent legal process, the EC may wait to adjudicate or impose sanctions until the legal process is completed.
If the respondent resigns from his/her URJ volunteer role during the process of fact gathering but prior to the adjudicatory process, the respondent will be regarded as removed and must apply for reinstatement to serve the URJ in accordance with paragraph II.B.2.d above. Readmission must be conditional upon the resumption of the process of fact gathering and the adjudicatory process.
If the fact that a complaint for breach of the Ethics Code was filed has become public and, after fact gathering and decision by the EC, the complaint is considered to be without validity, the EC should remain mindful of the potential damage to the respondent’s reputation and position caused by the publication of an invalid complaint. If requested by respondent and deemed necessary by the EC in light of all the circumstances, the EC may take appropriate steps to help restore the respondent’s good name and stature.
If the Fact Gathering Team or EC finds that the complaint is mischievous, malicious, or vindictive, the EC shall lend moral and practical support to the respondent’s reasonable demands for apology from the complainant and vindication before the URJ.
Last edited June 5, 2018
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