On rare occasions, some clubs find themselves faced with difficult members that seem to create extreme problems for the club. These problems often include creating a hostile environment for other members due to unwanted physical or sexual contact, verbal abuse, racial or ethnic slurs, etc. While a running club experience is designed to be fun and social, at times adults may make candid remarks to be humorous. Members should be mindful how comments or actions will be perceived within a large group setting. While the need to remove club members is rare, it has happened on occasion due to inappropriate behavior. Even if your club has never had the misfortune to deal with a troublesome member, it is a good idea to consider adopting a Member Code of Conduct to help outline expected behavior within the membership for people participating in your organized club runs, events, business or social functions.
Some clubs have a Conflict of Interest that outlines how their board of directors should behave, but often times these codes or policies do not establish behavior expectations for the general membership. Adopting a Member Code of Conduct policy is a good opportunity to outline the type of atmosphere your organization is trying to create; especially as your club membership grows in size. A Code establishes a baseline expectation of behavior for all members, and it should also outline what members should do if they feel that another member is violating the club’s Code of Conduct policy. Your Member Code of Conduct policy should be included on your membership forms, ideally under your waiver of liability.
A Member Code of Conduct policy does not need to be complex. The following outlines basic points to include in a policy:
- Always show respect your fellow club members at all times;
- Always show respect and appreciation for the volunteers who give their time to help the club and/or event(s);
- Never yell, taunt, or threaten physical violence upon another member of the club, a volunteer or event spectator (Members with a criminal history of violence or with a legal restraining order against them by another member may be barred from membership and participation in all club activities);
- Never use abusive or vulgar language, or make racial, ethnic or gender-related slurs or derogatory comments at club events;
- Never make unwanted sexual or physical contact with other members (Members found to be listed on a sex offender registry, convicted of a sex crime, or caught having, creating, or distributing child pornography will be immediately barred from membership and all participation in club activities.);
- Always report violations of the Member Code of Conduct policy to the Board in writing.
Your club might have other points to consider. However, keep in mind the goal of the Code is not to create a draconian behavior policy, but a baseline of behavior expectations so your club leaders can address behavior(s) that “cross the line.” The Internet has many sample Code of Conducts for sports organizations or sports leagues that may be helpful to review as you develop a Code for your club. Your Code should also outline the procedure for reporting complaints of a Code violation and your Board’s course of action for addressing complaints. Keep in mind; the last thing you want is to create an environment where people try to mediate interpersonal conflicts with your board of Directors. There are some people in a club that just might not be able to get along. It happens. Its not the role of the Board to make sure everyone is friends, but it is the Board’s role to ensure a truly hostile environment is not being created that threatens the general well-being of the club and its members.
Members who feel that someone has violated the club’s Code of Conduct should submit a written complaint to the Board of Directors, and the Board should take action to review the complaint in a timely manner. If a complaint is founded and depending on the severity of the violation, the Board may want to consult with a local attorney and/or local law enforcement to determine a course of action. Working with local law enforcement is the best option if the problem seems to be more serious in nature, especially if there are issues related to unwanted sexual or physical contact with other members, especially minors.
If the Code violation seems like a minor issue such as a complaint of foul language, then the Board can follow a plan of action similar to addressing behavior issues in an employment situation. First, discuss the issue with the offending member and give them a verbal warning. Be sure to document the warning. If the problem persists, give the person a written warning that outlines how another complaint will result in loss of membership and that they will be barred from participating in club activities. In the most extreme case, a club may need to consider pursuing a restraining order to address the behavior of a barred member.