Advisory Opinion 29
Responsibility of Agency Owners for the ethical conduct of non-Member reporters (1996)
Statement of Facts
The Association's Board of Directors has requested the Committee on Professional Ethics to render an advisory opinion that describes circumstances under which an NCRA member who owns a freelance firm would be held responsible under the Code of Professional Ethics for the conduct of a non-Member reporter who the Member engages or hires.
An agency owner, who is also a Member of the Association, hires certain reporters directly from reporting school and sends them out on reporting jobs that are well beyond their qualifications and experience. Although it has been pointed out to the owner on several occasions that the persons the owner is hiring are unqualified and inexperienced to handle these assignments, the owner nevertheless continues this practice. The owner purposely hires such inexperienced and unqualified personnel knowing that they are not Members and, therefore, they do not have to conform to the higher professional and ethical standards mandated by the Code.
The Committee believes the owner's practice of sending out reporters that the owner knows or should have know are unqualified and inexperienced to handle the reporting assignments to which they are assigned does not maintain the integrity of the reporting profession. This practice violates Provision No. 9 of the Code. In addition, the Committee is of the opinion that a Member-agency owner should not be able to circumvent the Code by employing or hiring reporters who are not members of the Association and, thus, do not have to adhere to the Code. The owner is thus doing indirectly through others what the owner cannot do directly by himself or herself. Again, this owner is violating Provision No. 9 by failing to maintain the integrity of the reporting profession.
The Committee adds, however, that this Opinion does not mean that an agency owner is always responsible for the conduct of the owner's employee or independent contractor who violates the Code. On the contrary, owners are not insurers of the conduct of the reporters they hire, or with whom they contract. A large measure of adherence to the Code rests on the shoulders of the individual reporter. The public has the right to expect as much from any professional. On the other hand, owners have the responsibility to supervise the reporter they hire, or with whom they contract, and are responsible under the Code for any violations that they reasonably could have prevented.
In the present case, the agency owner is using the owner's non-Member employees to circumvent the Code. There also is a pattern of abuse from which a responsible person could discern that the agency owner knew or should have known that the reporters the owner is hiring are not experienced or proficient in handling the reporting assignments to which they are assigned. Although there was not any express order or authorization by the owner to these non-Member reporters to violate the Code, by hiring such inexperienced personnel and knowingly assigning them to jobs for which they are unqualified, the owner is not maintaining the integrity of the reporting profession. Under such circumstances, a person could file a complaint with the Committee under the Complaint Procedures seeking redress for the owner's violation of Code Provision No. 9.
Under the hypothetical situation set forth above, the Committee believes that an agency owner who repeatedly engages in the practice of hiring inexperienced and unqualified non-Member reporters and sending them on reporting assignments for which they are obviously not qualified to perform, violates Provision No. 9 of the Code by failing to maintain the integrity of the reporting profession.
THIS PUBLIC ADVISORY OPINION REFLECTS THE STATUS OF THE LAW IN MOST JURISDICTIONS. MEMBERS ARE REQUIRED TO CONFORM TO THE ACCEPTED PRACTICES SET FORTH IN THIS PUBLIC ADVISORY OPINION TO THE EXTENT THAT SUCH PRACTICES ARE CONSISTENT WITH THEIR OWN APPLICABLE STATE AND LOCAL LAWS, RULES AND REGULATIONS.