Professionals Behaving Badly

By ASPPA Net Staff • December 30, 2015 • 0 Comments
If a professional does something disgraceful that causes public outcry but isn’t directly related to the professional’s practice, should he or she be disciplined by their profession? The answer typically lies in the profession’s code of conduct, writes Lauren Bloom, the General Counsel & Director of Professionalism, Elegant Solutions Consulting.

In an article that appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Plan Consultant, Bloom discusses the importance of codes of conduct, and in the process discusses the ASPPA Code of Conduct.

Bloom sets the stage with a discussion of the incident in the summer of 2015 in which dentist Dr. Walter Palmer shot Cecil the lion, one of Zimbabwe’s top tourist attractions, during what he thought was a legal hunt. Legal issues in Zimbabwe and domestic criticism aside, she points out that it also is possible that Palmer may face discipline at the hands of the Minnesota Board of Dentists as well under the American Dental Association’s Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct.

So what would happen in such a case regarding an ASPPA member, Bloom asks?

“Every professional association’s code of conduct is designed to meet the needs of its members and the expectations of its publics. ASPPA’s Code of Professional Conduct is no exception,” writes Bloom. She notes that ASPPA’s Code has to set strong ethical standards for several professions without conflicting with applicable regulations, licensing requirements and the obligations imposed by the codes of conduct of the accounting, actuarial, investment advisory, legal and other professions to which ASPPA’s members belong.

Bloom notes that while ASPPA’s Code of Professional Conduct does not specifically require ASPPA members to refrain from engaging in conduct that puts the reputation of employee benefit professionals at risk, there are two provisions in the ASPPA Code that should be kept in mind.

First, Section 13 of the Code states that “[a] Member whose professional conduct is regulated by another membership organization shall abide by the professional Code of Conduct (or similar rules) of such organization.” Second, Section 10 of the ASPPA Code provides in part, “[a] Member who pleads guilty to or is found guilty of any misdemeanor related to financial matters or any felony shall be presumed to have contravened this Code and shall be subject to ASPPA’s counseling and disciplinary procedures.” Bloom observes that not all disgraceful incidents are illegal, and not all felonies are directly related to a professional’s practice, but notes that “Section 10 gives ASPPA the necessary flexibility to inquire into a member’s illegal conduct and discipline him as appropriate.”

“Professionals enjoy positions of special trust in American society, which is why a professional’s duties of honesty, integrity and competence are so important,” writes Bloom, who adds, “A professional’s public disgrace can reflect badly not only on the individual, but on his profession as a whole. The argument that a professional’s bad behavior was unrelated to his professional practice is a feeble one. It’s better to refrain from disgraceful, and especially illegal, conduct in the first place.”