BOSTON — With the #MeToo movement all over the news, the National Association of Realtors has overhauled the behavior policy it expects its nearly 1.4 million members to follow regarding NAR-related events and staff.
“Our industry, our associations are working hard to educate and train members and executives on how to professionally behave and create an environment that’s welcoming,” Katie Johnson, NAR’s chief general counsel and chief member experience officer, said on stage Thursday at the trade group’s annual conference, the Realtors Conference & Expo.
Earlier in the week, NAR’s leadership team approved the new “NAR Member Code of Conduct and Anti-Harassment Policy” to address “how members engage with other members and staff in the NAR setting,” she said.
NAR declined to comment on whether state and local Realtor associations were responsible for coming up with their own anti-harassment policies.
Not just sexual harassment
NAR’s old policy focused mainly on sexual harassment. The new policy covers sexual as well as other forms of harassment.
“Harassment in any form is strictly prohibited. Harassment includes inappropriate conduct, comment, display, action, or gesture based on another person’s sex, color, race, religion, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and any other protected characteristic,” the new policy reads.
“Examples of harassment include, but are not limited to: epithets, slurs or negative stereotyping; threatening, intimidating or hostile acts; denigrating jokes; and the display or circulation of written or graphic material that denigrates or shows hostility toward an individual or group based on a protected characteristic.”
Unlike the old policy, the new policy specifies that sexual harassment may involve people of the same or different gender.
The old policy said, “Sexual harassment does not include occasional compliments or voluntary relationships between members and staff.” The new code of conduct is silent on these.
NAR declined to comment on the reasons behind specific changes in the policy, only saying via email that the policy was updated “to ensure that it is relevant to today.”
‘Sexual harassment can devastate associations’
The old policy mentions the effects of harassment on NAR’s exposure to legal liability and interference with work effectiveness. These are not mentioned in the new policy.
However, in a March video, Johnson spells out why Realtor associations should institute a strong sexual harassment prevention program.
“Sexual harassment can devastate associations by resulting in employee turnover, lack of member participation, reputational damages and legal liability,” she said.
‘Expulsion from membership’ a possibility
In the video, Johnson advises associations to clearly explain who will be involved in the investigation of a complaint and the process that will be followed through resolution.
The new anti-harassment policy does this. It specifies who a member should report inappropriate behavior to: the NAR General Counsel, the NAR Senior Vice President of Talent Development Resources, or the NAR President. (Under the old policy, members were to report to more junior leaders.)
The new policy also specifies that NAR’s general counsel (currently, Johnson) will conduct an investigation and only those deemed necessary will be involved.
If the probe finds that a violation of the policy has occurred, NAR’s president, president-elect and first vice president, in consultation with NAR’s general counsel, will determine any disciplinary action, according to the policy. If any of those officers are named in the complaint, NAR’s general counsel will identify a substitute chosen from NAR’s Executive Committee.
The old policy threatened only “appropriate disciplinary action,” while the new policy is more explicit.
“NAR reserves the right to take any necessary and appropriate action against a member who engages in any form of harassment or inappropriate behavior in violation of this Policy,” the new code of conduct reads.
“Such actions may include, but are not limited to, prohibition from attendance at future NAR meetings or events, removal from a committee appointment, expulsion from membership or any other action deemed appropriate by NAR.”
Why no no-retaliation statement?
However, one piece of advice Johnson gives in the video does not appear in NAR’s new anti-harassment policy: it does not include a statement assuring those who come forward that they will not suffer reprisals.
“Among the reasons victims do not come forward is a fear of retaliation,” Johnson said. “Be sure your association’s policy contains a ‘no-retaliation’ statement assuring complainants that no negative consequences will result from any report made in good faith.”
NAR declined to comment on why it did not include a ‘no-retaliation’ statement in the new policy.