Hostile conduct and intimidation

CFI has announced its new policy on hostile conduct/harassment at conferences.

This is huge. Huge. I’ll tell you why. It’s the first part. Hostile conduct.

That’s what I’m worried about, personally as opposed to generally, I can tell you. I’m certainly, and obviously, not worried about sexual overtures, as the cyber-stalkers love to remind anyone who will listen. But I certainly am worried about hostile conduct, since I’m treated to it day in and day out. Therefore I’m very pleased that CFI put that aspect first.

Ron Lindsay has a great post about the background and the thinking.

Rationale for the policy: First, let’s step back a bit and ask why employers are effectively required to have policies prohibiting harassment, whether it’s sexual harassment or harassment based on protected group status. (I say “effectively” because absent such a policy, an employer has a much greater risk of legal liability.) This may shed light on why it’s also prudent for conference organizers to have such policies, especially conference organizers who try to create an atmosphere that promotes intellectual exchange.

At least in the United States, the primary rationale for workplace policies is not that employers have an obligation to ensure that all their employees are “nice” to each other. Rather, it is that harassment interferes with an employee’s ability to work; employers can be liable for such harassment when it is so severe that it “alters the conditions of employment and creates an abusive working environment.” Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 67 (1986). Workplace harassment policies are actually intended to help both employees and employers. Properly administered, they increase workplace efficiency.

An abusive working environment. That’s the thing. It’s not a matter of being “nice” but it is a matter of not being overtly (noisily, energetically) hostile. Think teenage boys, school bus, Karen Klein. An abusive working environment really does interfere with doing the job – and that’s all the more true when the job is talking and listening and interacting, as it is at conferences.

CFI believes we should look at the goals of a harassment policy for conferences in an analogous light. A primary objective of our policy is to ensure that everyone at our conferences — speakers, attendees, and staff — will feel safe and at ease and be able to participate fully in all conference-related events. Intimidation and harassment prevent this objective from being achieved, so such conduct should be prohibited.

This is why we have embedded our harassment policy within the context of an overall prohibition on hostile conduct. We seek to prohibit any abusive conduct “that has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with another person’s ability to enjoy and participate in the conference, including social events related to the conference.”

Looked at this way, CFI’s policy supports the goals of CFI in holding conferences, just as workplace policies support the desires of rational employers for workplace efficiency. CFI’s policy promotes friendly interaction among conference participants, including the candid exchange of viewpoints, and this, in turn, helps ensure a successful conference.

Long exhalation. Yes. Thank you.


  1. anthrosciguy says

    A really good point that some folks seem intent on not getting (great to see some organizations do get it). Basically it’s that while we should aspire to be a community that, Bill and Ted-like, says “Be excellent to each other”, what we want to actually enforce is “don’t be a jerk”.

  2. jamessweet says

    I only had a chance to skim the CFI’s policy so far, but it definitely looks really good to me. Count me among those who were not super-crazy about the American Atheists policy (though I was mostly silent on that, since I think the fact that they have a policy at all, even an awkwardly worded and strangely rambling one, was such an important step forward that I have not wanted to detract from it). This one, however, appears to be spot on. Major kudos to CFI!!

  3. Willow says

    Great policy. But I would say that many conferences do have such a policy but perhaps without as many examples. I like the examples. We will never ever get rid of harassment. After reading the Jon Ronson book I get now that no policy will keep the real jerks from doing what they please. So, vigilance is still as important as ever. Don’t ever let a policy keep you from being safe, I was told that for business conferences I attend, all females are required to have the cell phone number to hotel security programmed in their phones. There are policies in place that are very strict but it’s the walk from the room to the conference area, and conduct in bars, elevators, parking garages that have proven to be the biggest challenge. Teachers conferences you would think would be safe. (We usually take over the entire hotel). They aren’t.

    Great policy, good to have the support, but the psychopaths are smart…so hotel security number on your cell phone always.

  4. David says

    If it wasnt for those “uppity feminist” tm. getting all …well uppity.
    keep it uppity

  5. avh1 says

    Excellent news.

    I honestly don’t get the impression that people here would be angry with you for constructive criticism of a specific policy. They might well *disagree* with you, but that’s part of the sceptical lifestyle. 😉

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