‘Good character’ requirement protects human resources profession, public (Guest Commentary)

New HRPA members will be required to attest to character when joining
By Claude Balthazard
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/04/2012

The Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) will soon introduce “good character” as a requirement for membership in the association.

The purpose is not to make life more difficult for applicants but to ensure unethical individuals are not granted membership in the association. If they are, it increases the risk of harm to the public and damages the profession’s reputation, which the vast majority of HR professionals work hard to build and maintain.

For HRPA, requiring applicants to be “of good character” is also a matter of compliance with the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario Act, 1990, which requires the association grant memberships only to individuals of good character.

So what is “good character” and how is it determined? Fortunately, we are not the first profession to wrestle with the issue — many professional regulatory bodies require that applicants for membership be of good character and workable approaches have evolved to ensure applicants not of good character are not granted membership.

The definition of good character tends to be very similar across regulated professions. For instance, the following definition can be found on the website of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario (ICAO): “Good character includes, but is not limited to, integrity, candour, honesty, trustworthiness, moral and ethical standards, and such other qualities or combination of qualities as will promote the practice of chartered accountancy in the public interest, in accordance with the Chartered Accountants Act, 2010, and the objects of the institute.”

The approach that has evolved among regulated professions is one that is based on self-attestation. Applicants are asked to inform the association of specific incidents in their past which might suggest issues with the applicant’s character — such as criminal charges, convictions, incidents of academic dishonesty, disciplinary proceedings or similar incidents.

Nothing more is asked or required of applicants with no incidents. If there are one or more such incidents, it does not mean the application will be denied. It does mean, however, that there is a need for a closer look. In these situations, applicants are expected to explain their previous misconduct and make the case they are now of good character.

A key principle, however, is that just because there is an incident of some kind in a candidate’s past does not mean this candidate is not of good character today.

The relevant test is not whether there is too great a risk of future abuse of the public trust by an applicant, but whether the applicant has established good character on the balance of probabilities at the time of the application for membership.

The determination of good character is made by an adjudicative panel comprised of members of the profession, according to a process that includes procedural fairness safeguards for applicants.

The factors that must be considered by the panel include:

• the significance and duration of the misconduct

• evidence of repentance or remorse

• insight into the problematic behaviour

• any rehabilitative efforts that have been undertaken, and the success of such efforts

• whether the person has reformed since the misconduct.

Even candidates with serious misconduct in their past can be judged to be of good character at the time of their application. The premise is rehabilitation is always possible. Accordingly, it is open to any unsuccessful applicant to re-apply for admission at a future date to try to persuade the panel she is now of good character.

In addition, as a further assurance of fairness, unsuccessful applicants may appeal a decision to deny their registration to the appeals committee and, ultimately, to divisional court.

It should be noted the good character requirement does not apply to individuals who are already members of the association.

To sum up, granting memberships to applicants who are not of good character increases the risk of harm to the public and damages the reputation of the profession.

HRPA’s good character requirement was developed based on the best practices of other professional regulatory bodies in Ontario.

Claude Balthazard is vice-president of regulatory affairs and registrar at the Toronto-based Human Resources Professionals Association. He can be reached at cbalthazard@hrpa.ca.

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