S.T.O.P Harassment: A Proposal
Standards, Terms, and Other Practices
A cultural revolution is occurring relating to the reporting and handling of sexual harassment misconduct and investigations. Up until recently, sexual harassment issues have been handled through the use of traditional channels such as human resource departments and the courts. This process often took a long time and left both the accusers and the accused in limbo. Often the process ended in a financial settlement with an associated confidentiality requirement. The process allowed harassers to hide their prior misconduct, placing additional people at risk from the harassers. Now, with the benefit of social media, sexual harassment accusations and issues are being handled in the public domain. Harassers can no longer hide in the shadows with the help of non-disclosure agreements. With this power, accusers can often obtain swift condemnation of harassers.
However, a consequence of this power is the risk of destroying the careers and families of innocent persons, either because the accusations are false or because the conduct at issue does not fit the definition of “harassment,” and such risks can lead to severe consequences of irreversible public shaming. This swift “justice” occurs without any due process for the accused. Additionally, the public shaming of the victim can be based on information and evidence that would not typically be allowed in court, such as hearsay and speculation. These guidelines seek to strike a balance between, on the one hand, exposing harassers and protecting victims and potential future victims, and on the other hand, protecting the rights of innocent people who have been accused.
It is worth noting that this proposal is not meant to address issues of legal liability that are covered under state or federal statutes that are already in place for criminal complaints or for determining civil liability. The intent here is to provide baseline guidelines and a structure for addressing complaints arising from unacceptable conduct within the tabletop gaming industry. It is intended to furnish guidelines that can be adopted by businesses and/or independent contractors working in the tabletop industry (members) to keep tabletop gaming events and workplaces free of all forms of harassment, intimidation, and discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation. While discrimination and/or harassment based on race, national origin, or religion are not specifically addressed in these procedures, these procedures, and the investigative guidelines, are applicable to such discrimination and harassment issues. The intent is to create common and agreed upon policies for reporting issues based on discrimination and harassment, setting up mechanisms for prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into any alleged such allegations, and establishing protocols for taking corrective action.
“Sexual harassment” under these protocols includes (1) repeated unwelcome sexual advances; requests for sexual favors; and other physical, verbal, or written conduct of a sexual nature that is objectively offensive; and (2) creating an intimidating, hostile, or sexually offensive environment by severe or pervasive conduct. Written conduct includes postings or similar conduct in online or electronic venues. Sexual harassment may occur in hierarchical relationships or between peers, and between persons of the same sex or opposite sex. Discrimination or harassment that is based on race, age, sex, gender, gender identity, national origin, ancestry, disability, medical condition, religion, or sexual orientation would also be addressed under this policy. Harassment is behavior which focuses unwelcome attention on a person, inappropriately crosses objectively reasonable expectations of social boundaries, and continues after a request to desist. While the policies and procedures are written to be applicable to an industry board, they can also be applied to individual members or companies within the industry as applicable.
This document specifically addresses publishers, manufacturers, and other business members of the tabletop games industry, and asks that they agree to sign on and apply the standards herein when dealing with complaints of harassment, intimidation, or discrimination brought to them by those in their companies and/or communities.
Free Speech and Artistic Freedom
Tabletop gaming is an inherently creative industry and this policy shall be implemented in a manner that recognizes the importance of the freedom of speech and expression: no provision of this policy shall be interpreted to prohibit conduct that is legitimately related to fiction, teaching methods, or public commentary of an individual member or the educational, political, artistic, or literary expression of members in games, fiction, and public venues.
This policy prohibits retaliation against a member for reporting harassment, intimidation or discrimination and for participating in an investigation relating to same. The sanctions for retaliation are the same sanctions available to address any other violation of this policy.
The first step for a person who believes there has been a breach of this code of conduct should be to communicate in writing (e.g. email) with the individual engaging in the alleged offensive behavior and tell him or her that the accuser finds his or her behavior inappropriate and request that it cease. In the event that the accuser feels a genuine fear of direct approach, he or she can engage an intermediary (friend, colleague, etc.) to make this communication on his or her behalf.
If such behavior does not immediately cease, or if direct communication is insufficient, the behavior may be reported. Such a report should include the substance of the complaint, date(s), a list of witnesses, and/or reference URLs, where appropriate.
It is important that any entity investigating a harassment report have independence and credibility in connection with the investigation of any allegations of harassment. Board members with a business, familial, and/or friendship relationship with the accuser and/or accused should disclose those relationships and recuse themselves where possible.
[This needs language for reporting to a review board should one be established through the auspices of the Game Manufacturers Association, the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design, or an as-yet-to-exist independent association.]
Good faith attempts to reasonably protect the interests of the accuser and accused should be the cornerstone of these procedures and guidelines. A timely and neutral investigation should occur. The investigation should involve compiling documentary and witness information in a timely manner. “Timely” means within 60 days from the lodging of a report. The committee considering the allegations should issue findings within 90 days from the report.
Relevant information relating to the investigation should include, but are not limited to, interviews of witnesses, if any, relating to the alleged event(s) at issue, the context of the alleged events at issue, the alleged business, professional, competitive and/or social relationships, if any, between the accuser and accused, contemporaneous communications relating to the events at issue, the relationships and/or history, if any, between the accuser and accused, and any relevant history relating to the accuser and/or accused. Refusal by the accused or accuser to participate in the investigation should be considered. Destruction of evidence by, or unavailability of evidence from, the accuser and/or accused should also be considered in the investigation.
When the investigative board seeks information from the accused or accuser, the guideline for a timely response (including production of requested information and documents) is seven (7) days from the request for documents and/or information.
Hearsay should not be considered. Hearsay is evidence of a statement that was made other than by a witness while attesting during a hearing, and that is offered to prove the truth of the matter stated. Hearsay evidence is inadmissible by law in both civil and criminal trials.
A finding of harassment or false reporting can have consequences for the accuser and/or accused, and so a finding of harassment or false reporting should be based on a clear and convincing standard of evidence. In a typical civil dispute, the burden of proof is a preponderance of evidence (50.1% or more). In a criminal case, the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. Clear and convincing evidence is more than a preponderance of evidence and less than beyond a reasonable doubt.
Sanctions for Violation of Policy
Harassment, intimidation, and discrimination in violation of this policy is materially and seriously prejudicial to the interests of the tabletop games industry. When it has been determined that a violation of this policy has occurred, the company, convention, or industry organization receiving the complaint will determine, in its sole discretion, the appropriate sanction.
Remedial measures should be designed to stop the harassment, correct its effects, and ensure that the harassment does not recur. These remedial measures need not be those that the complainant requests or prefers, as long as they are effective.
Violations of this policy may lead to a range of consequences based on the circumstances. Disciplinary measures should be objectively proportional to the objective seriousness of the offense. If the harassment was minor, such as a small number of “off-color” remarks by an individual with no prior history of similar misconduct, then counseling and an oral warning might be all that is necessary. If, however, the harassment was objectively severe or persistent, then suspension may be appropriate. Other sanctions may include, but not be limited to:
- Warning one or more parties involved that specified behavior is inappropriate (private);
- Admonishment letter (public)
- Suspension from and/or limited access to tabletop gaming spaces or venues, including online spaces, on a temporary or permanent basis, subject to reconsideration;
- Removal from and/or access to tabletop gaming spaces or venues, including online spaces, on a permanent basis with no reconsideration;
- Barring a non-member from future membership on a temporary or permanent basis with or without reconsideration;
- A temporary or permanent suspension of membership.
Every reasonable effort should be made to conduct all investigations into allegations of harassment, intimidation, or discrimination in a manner that will protect the confidentiality of all parties. Notwithstanding the above, confidentiality is not absolute, and those with a legitimate business reason to know and to be informed of the allegations will be so informed. Parties to the complaint should treat the matter under investigation with discretion and respect for the reputation of all parties involved.
It is a violation of this policy for a member to knowingly, recklessly, and/or negligently disregard the truth when making a claim of harassment, intimidation, or discrimination. Failure to prove a claim of unlawful harassment is not, by itself, equivalent to a false claim. Neither should a thorough investigation to be sure a claim is not being made for other reasons (e.g. political disagreement, competitors, racial bias, gender bias) be taken as assumption of the claim being false.