The below is a list of questions and answers about the National Federation of the Blind Code of Conduct. This FAQ addresses the process that is in place as of March 2021. As the code of conduct and complaint process are reviewed and changed, these questions and answers will be updated as quickly as possible to reflect any revisions that are made. Feedback is currently being received from external experts, the NFB Survivor Lead Task Force, and you. Recommendations will help ensure that the Code of Conduct and its complaint process help to foster a safe, inclusive, and welcoming culture. All NFB programs and activities should be free of misconduct.
Please send recommendations regarding how we can improve our processes or better support survivors of sexual misconduct and abuse to [email protected]. Questions and concerns regarding harassment and inequities can be directed to our Committee on Diversity and Inclusion at [email protected]. Feedback can always be directed to our national President at [email protected]. If you have additional questions that are not addressed here, please write to [email protected].
History and Development of the Code of Conduct
President Riccobono appointed a committee in 2017 to develop the NFB Code of Conduct. This committee researched codes, policies, and procedures of other membership organizations, asked for feedback and suggestions from Federation members, and researched legal requirements for such a code. The Code of Conduct was adopted by the NFB Board of Directors on January 26, 2018. Refinements to the code have been made many times since its initial adoption based on feedback from members and third-party consultants. The next major enhancement to the code is expected to be available at the time of the 2021 national convention.
What is the NFB Code of Conduct?
What is the purpose of the complaint process?
What types of matters are investigated through the complaint process?
Does the Code of Conduct apply to the three NFB-affiliated training centers?
If a leader of the Federation becomes aware of an vilation of the code where the survivor or other people involved do not want their personally identifiable information to be revealed, what should the responsible leader do?
How is the Code of Conduct reviewed and updated?
What happens with the committee’s findings?
How can I provide feedback on the NFB Code of Conduct and complaint process?
Who receives a complaint when it is filed?
When a complaint is filed about an individual, who is notified?
When should I expect to hear from someone after filing a complaint?
What determines how a complaint will be investigated?
What is a mediation or internal investigation and who is involved?
Who negotiates mediation or internal investigations?
Are mediations and internal investigations outcomes tracked and documented?
Who is the external reviewer and what types of complaints do they investigate?
Who notifies the subject of the complaint and that they are required to participate in the formal review process?
Are outcomes of similar complaints taken into consideration when determining penalties for a current complaint?
Who reviews the external investigators report/recommendations and determines the outcome?
What are the possible outcomes of a complaint?
Why might there be a finding that the individual did not violate the Code of Conduct or otherwise did not engage in misconduct?
After the President issues his decision, are others notified?
May victims/survivors share the outcomes of their investigations with others?
Will participants in the complaint investigation be told the outcome?
How long will it take to hear the outcome of my complaint?
Can a decision be appealed by either party?
How does an individual file an appeal?
Is retaliation for participation in the Code of Conduct complaint process prohibited?
A: The NFB Code of Conduct outlines the policies and standards that all Federation members, leaders, employees, contractors, and participants in Federation-sponsored activities and events are required to follow. The Code of Conduct establishes the minimum standard of behavior and outlines the complaint process for reporting violations of the Code of Conduct.
A: The purpose of the complaint process is twofold: to investigate and document allegations of violations to the NFB Code of Conduct and to provide resolution, including taking appropriate action when misconduct has occurred.
A: A complaint may be filed to report violations to the Code of Conduct or other misconduct or inappropriate behavior by a member, leader, employee, contractor, or participant of a Federation program or event. Complaints may be filed in the areas of:
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion, including the use of demeaning, derogatory, or discriminatory language, action, or any other form of expression that marginalizes an individual or group. All violations are measured against our definitions of diversity, equity, and inclusion (Article II);
- Discrimination based on race, creed, color, religion, background, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, citizenship, marital status, age, genetic information, disability, or any other characteristic or intersectionality of characteristics (Article III);
- Sexual misconduct including sexual violence, abuse, and harassment (Section III);
- Nonsexual harassment including verbal, written, or physical conduct that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion towards an individual because of their (or that of their relatives, friends, or associates) race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, age, disability, marital status, citizenship, genetic information, or any other characteristic protected by law and a) that has the purpose and effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment; b) has the purpose and effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s performance or involvement in the organization; or c) otherwise adversely affects an individual’s opportunities for participation/advancement in the organization. (Section III);
- Social media and internet use (Section IV);
- Conflict of interest, including financial responsibility, political activity, receiving payment, and other activities involving Federation leaders (Section V);
- Interaction with minors (those age under 18) (Section VI);
- Alcohol and drug use (Section VII); and
- Other misconduct not addressed in the NFB Code of Conduct.
A: Yes, the Code of Conduct applies and the same reporting and investigative procedures are used. Each training center has their own set of policies based on state and employment procedures, so additional measures may be taken depending on the complaint filed. Students and staff of NFB-affiliated training centers should engage the established grievance processes at those centers whenever possible. In investigating a complaint, the NFB will coordinate with the board of directors of the training center in question. Where a complaint involves sexual allegations of improper conduct or harassment, the NFB will consult with the external investigator on whether this coordination is appropriate and how or when it should take place. There are only three NFB-affiliated training centers, and they are the Colorado Center for the Blind, the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and BLIND, Incorporated.
Q: If a leader of the Federation becomes aware of a violation of the code where the survivor or other people involved do not want their personally identifiable information to be revealed, what should the responsible leader do?
A. Responsible leaders of the Federation should consult the guidance for responsible leaders document. A critical part of preventing incidents is sharing information that might help identify harmful patterns of violations of the code of conduct. Sometimes it will not be possible to reveal names of people who have been impacted to protect their wishes or to prevent potential retaliation. Getting the data into the code of conduct process will help even if that information does not include any personally identifying details about the victim of an incident. Whenever possible, leaders should remind people that an obligation to report information may exist before sensitive details are shared with the leader.
A: The President appoints a code of conduct review committee. At least once a year, they review the Code of Conduct to ensure it is effective and comprehensive and to make recommendations for improvements to the NFB Board of Directors. The committee reviews the types of complaints, characteristics about the people involved, and other details concerning the matters brought through the code of conduct process. In addition, for all matters and protocols related to sexual misconduct and abuse, the NFB Board of Directors has established a special committee which is doing continuous monitoring and making recommendations for improvements.
A: The committee makes recommendations to the NFB Board of Directors. They vote on whether to adopt recommended changes. In addition, a special committee is doing continuous monitoring of complaints related to sexual misconduct and abuse and are recommending adjustments and improvements on a regular basis.
A: Please send feedback using one of these three avenues:
- The Federation’s President always appreciates hearing feedback directly. You can send feedback to [email protected] or call 410-659-9314 and request an appointment with the President.
- Send an email to [email protected] or call 410-659-9314, extension 2475.
- Contact the Survivor Task Force at [email protected] or 410-659-9314, extension 2238.
A: You can do so in one of several ways:
- Use the online code of conduct complaint report form;
- Send an email to [email protected];
- Call the NFB-dedicated voicemail box at 410-659-9314, extension 2475;
- Notify the national President, the chair of the NFB Board of Directors, or an executive officer (vice president, secretary, or treasurer) of the National Federation of the Blind;
- Contact the Survivor Task Force at [email protected] or 410-659-9314, extension 2238; or
- Notify a state leader of the National Federation of the Blind.
Note: Anyone can help file a complaint for you.
A: Yes. You may obtain assistance from others such as family members, affiliate leaders, friends, or the Survivor Task Force to complete and submit the form or start the complaint process.
A: Yes. A complaint filed by a first-hand witness should include details about the subject (person who performed the misconduct or behavior), the victim (the person who was harmed) if they have consented to their name being disclosed, and the behavior that is in conflict with the NFB Code of Conduct or illustrates misconduct.
A: Yes. Anonymous reports may be filed by a survivor/victim, a first-hand witness, or an elected leader in the Federation who feels it is important that the incident be documented. The complaint should include details about the subject (person who performed the misconduct or behavior), the victim (the person who was harmed) if they have consented to their name being disclosed, and the behavior that is in conflict with the NFB Code of Conduct or illustrates misconduct. If the survivor/victim does not want to be named, then investigators may not be able to effectively resolve the complaint given existing information. Regardless, it will be investigated as much as possible based on the information provided.
A: When reports are filed the information is logged for tracking by a Federation staff member who helps collect all information and track the report through the process. At the same time, the complaint is received by an outside investigator, Tonya Baña, and outside legal counsel, Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum, who review the complaint and determine the next steps in the investigation.
A: All complaints are initially reviewed by the external investigator and outside counsel to determine whether the complaint falls within the jurisdiction of the external investigator. If the complaint falls within her jurisdiction, she notifies the complainant that she will be conducting the investigation. Ideally this happens within seventy-two hours. If the complaint is not within her jurisdiction, it is sent back to NFB’s general counsel, and the President appoints a committee to work on the complaint. In these cases, the filer of the complaint will hear from the Office of the President about next steps.
A: Within two to three (2-3) business days.
A: If the complaint involves discrimination, sexual misconduct and harassment, or interactions with minors, then the external investigator and legal counsel will manage the complaint investigation. Complaints involving other types of misconduct may be resolved through mediation or internal investigation efforts but only after the external investigator and external counsel have made a determination that external investigation is not appropriate.
A: Complaints that do not require external investigation and recommendations are typically those that relate to the business of the organization. Once the external investigator, in conjunction with external counsel, determines that the complaint should be handled by Federation leaders, it is referred to the Federation’s general counsel. These are typically disputes that can be mediated or allegations of inappropriate use of organizational resources. Matters of sexual misconduct and abuse will never be investigated internally by the organization. A mediation may include appointment of a neutral Federation leader to settle a dispute or appointment of a panel of members to investigate an internal matter. In all cases, a determination will be made to ensure no conflicts of interest exist.
A: Mediations and internal investigations will be assigned to appropriate individuals as determined by the organization’s President in consultation with the general counsel unless one or both of these individuals have a conflict of interest. Frequently these complaints may be handled by a state affiliate’s board or other governing board applicable to the incident.
A: Yes, all complaints filed through the code of conduct process whether handled externally or internally are tracked and documented.
A: The external reviewer investigates any complaint describing sexual abuse or misconduct. The current external review firm is Tonya Baña LLC, which is based out of Baltimore, Maryland.
Q: Who notifies the subject of the complaint and that they are required to participate in the formal review process?
A: The external investigator will handle all communications for matters that are being actively investigated outside of the Federation. For mediations and internal investigations, the organization’s President or general counsel will manage correspondence with relevant individuals.
Q: Are outcomes of similar complaints taken into consideration when determining penalties for a current complaint?
A: Yes. Recommended penalties for a current complaint may be measured against previous outcomes in similar complaints when determining final recommendations.
A: The report and findings of the external investigator is delivered to external legal counsel as well as a review committee appointed by the President of the Federation. These individuals finalize recommendations to the President, or another Federation officer if a conflict exists. The review committee is expected to complete its review and recommendations within seventy-two hours. The President has forty-eight hours to report to the review committee any reason that the final outcome will be different than the recommendations of the review committee. It is anticipated that only in extreme circumstances would the actions taken by the President be different than the recommendations of the review committee. Documentation of any changes will be maintained by the talent development coordinator for review by the NFB Board of Directors as needed. Outcomes will be communicated to each of the individuals involved in a complaint by the President of the organization.
A: There are several possible outcomes including verbal and/or written reprimand, required training, counseling, probation, suspension/expulsion from membership, and suspension/expulsion from leadership. Individuals may be required to provide documentation to demonstrate that they have met these conditions before they can rejoin the organization, resume leadership responsibilities, or participate in any Federation activities. If the violation relates to specific events, the individual may also be banned from future participation in those events even if membership is restored.
Q: Why might there be a finding that the individual did not violate the Code of Conduct or otherwise did not engage in misconduct?
A: This may occur if there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate the allegations or if critical witnesses and parties fail to participate in the investigation.
A: Depending on the circumstances, there will be times when others, including those in NFB leadership positions, will be notified of a decision. Some examples of include:
- Notification to certification boards and entities who require NFB and others to report adverse information about known certification holders;
- Notification to an affiliate president and state board of directors that a member is prohibited from working with or being around children;
- Notification to the NFB Board of Directors or the leadership of a particular affiliate, training center, or national division that an individual has been suspended or expelled from the organization or has otherwise been disciplined.
A: The victim/survivor’s story belongs solely to them. The NFB supports the victim/survivor’s right to seek healing, including respect for a victim/survivor exercising many approaches to process the trauma and pain resulting from an incident. This may involve sharing any part of their story with others. The NFB only asks that confidentiality is respected throughout the investigation, but that does not jeopardize the right of victims/survivors to eventually share their own story.
A: The victim and the subject of the complaint will be told the outcome of the investigation. Witnesses will not be told the outcome of the investigation. On a need-to-know basis, and especially when the safety of members is a concern, affiliate presidents and other leaders will be told the outcome of the investigation, without naming the survivor/victim involved. The survivor/victim may choose to share that information independently.
A: Ordinarily, findings are issued sixty (60) days after the date the complaint is filed. However, other factors, such as law enforcement or third-party reviewers, may lengthen the time to conduct an investigation.
A: Yes, both the survivor/victim and the subject of the complaint may appeal a decision if they are not satisfied with the outcome. Such appeals should be filed directly with the NFB Board of Directors.
A: The individual may appeal a decision by notifying the President or a member of the NFB Board of Directors in writing. This can come from the advocate, survivor/victim, or subject. The individual should state what is being appealed (decision and/or penalty), state why the appeal is being requested, and provide any supporting information.
A: Yes. Retaliation for reporting a code of conduct violation or other misconduct is prohibited by the Code of Conduct.
Q: Can participants in the complaint investigation share information about the issues in the complaint, the investigation, or the outcome with others?
A: Individuals in the process, including the investigatory committee, the victim, the subject of the complaint, and any witnesses, will be instructed to maintain confidentiality during the investigation so as not to influence the testimony of others and to preserve the privacy of all parties. In matters relating to sexual misconduct and abuse, it is up to the survivor/victim to share their own experiences as they choose, though the information shared throughout the investigation should be kept confidential until the process is completed in order to help the investigator obtain the best information. A survivor can be supported by an advocate of their choice at any time.
A: All individuals (volunteers, employees, and contractors) who work with minors in Federation programs are required to successfully complete background checks on an annual basis and be clear of code of conduct violations. All staff of the National Federation of the Blind and its three affiliated training centers are required to successfully complete background checks upon initial hiring and are typically rescreened periodically especially when working with youth. The frequency of the rescreening is dependent on local laws and policies.
If you have additional questions that are not addressed here, please write to [email protected]. Please send recommendations regarding how we can improve our processes or better support survivors of sexual misconduct and abuse to [email protected] or call 410-659-9314 extension 2238. Questions and concerns regarding harassment and inequities can be directed to our Committee on Diversity and Inclusion at [email protected]. Feedback can always be directed to our national President at [email protected].