Guidance for APA Volunteers: ASME Guidelines

Approved June 1992 by the Board of Directors of the American Psychological Association. (The original version of the ASME Guidelines was approved by the Board of Directors and published in 1985.)


Limitations on the Authority of APA Volunteers and Staff to Act on Behalf of the Association

In 1982 the U.S. Supreme Court determined that a professional association is liable for antitrust violations arising from activities of its volunteers or staff even when the association does not know about, approve of, or benefit from those activities, as long as the volunteers or staff appear to outsiders to be acting with the association's approval (i.e., with its "apparent authority").

The famous decision is American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Inc. (ASME) v. Hydrolevel Corp. In it the Supreme Court made clear that associations are to be held strictly liable for the activities of volunteers and staff that have even the apparent authority of the associations. The imposition of liability is intended as a warning to associations that they must adopt and follow procedures to assure that antitrust violations, even unauthorized ones, do not occur.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has promulgated procedures, called the "ASME Guidelines," to provide guidance for volunteers and staff on the limits of their authority to act on behalf of the Association.

The ASME Guidelines apply to all volunteers and staff of APA and bodies integral to APA (i.e., councils, boards, divisions, committees, subcommittees, ad hoc groups, task forces, work groups, etc.). These include all governance structure leadership, division leadership, and employees of the association. State psychological associations, which are affiliated with APA but are not bodies integral to APA, are encouraged to implement these Guidelines in their own associations.

ASME Guidelines

1. Standards, Guidelines, and Credentials. Extreme care is necessary in the development of standards, guidelines, or credentials that affect economic interests or competition. When these kinds of APA programs might have effects upon scope of practice or modes of practice, compensation or reimbursement, professional engagements or positions, assignment of tasks or titles, or other economic or competitive factors in psychology, the antitrust laws are implicated.

Standards, guidelines, or credentials must be reasonable. Reasonableness can be enhanced by circulating the proposed standards, guidelines, or credentials for comment by those who will be affected. The final versions should reflect, to the extent practicable, the consensus of those affected by the standards, guidelines, or credentials after review and consideration of all comments received.

Standards, guidelines, and credentials must state who is authorized to interpret them, such as the Council of Representatives, the Board of Directors, other boards, committees, divisions, or their authorized representatives. Interpretations must be issued in writing. Extreme care must be used in formulating any statements regarding standards, guidelines, or credentials that are expected to be relied upon by APA members or by others, whether or not there are specific enforcement mechanisms related to the standards, guidelines, or credentials.

If the standards, guidelines, or credentials do include enforcement mechanisms, there must be provisions to assure that due process is afforded to those affected, including the opportunity for appeal.

2. Correspondence and Statements. Official correspondence and statements, whether issued explicitly or implicitly by or on behalf of APA or a body integral to APA, must be approved in advance.

Approval can be either by the entire body responsible for the correspondence or statements, such as where an APA board or committee has voted on a resolution to issue correspondence or statements, or by the highest level of volunteer leadership or staff leadership involved, such as the chair of a board or committee or the chief staff official responsible for the board or committee, if the body has delegated authority to those individuals. The correspondence or statements must then be limited to what has been authorized and must be within the scope of duties of the volunteer or staff leadership.

Other correspondence or statements must not be on APA letterhead and, if they could possibly be interpreted as issued by or on behalf of the association or a body integral to the association, must include a disclaimer indicating that they are not made by or on behalf of APA.

3. Meetings and Conflicts. All meetings of APA or bodies integral to APA must be scheduled in advance if practicable, have agendas circulated to attendees in advance, be open if practicable, and have written minutes prepared and circulated to attendees.

Conflicts of interest are subject to separate APA guidelines on that subject (see the Association Rules for Conflict of Interest and Duality Guidelines for the Council of Representatives [Rule 30-7] and the Board of Directors [Rule 80-2]).

Questions and Answers About the ASME Guidelines

1. To whom do the ASME Guidelines apply?

The Guidelines are intended to protect APA from acts which incur legal liability for activities of APA staff or governance, whether paid or voluntary, who may appear to third parties to be speaking or acting with real or apparent authority on any matter. Therefore they apply to all APA volunteers or staffers who might take action or make statements that carry or appear to carry the authority of the association. This includes officers; directors; council, board, committee, or ad hoc group chairs and members; and any others in leadership positions in the APA governance structure. It also includes leadership and other volunteers of the APA divisions, whether or not they are separately incorporated, because the divisions are integral to the association structure. Finally it includes all APA employees. State psychological associations are not integral to the structure of APA, so these Guidelines do not apply to them; the state associations are nevertheless encouraged to adopt and use the Guidelines in their own organizations.

2. The ASME Guidelines apply specially to "standards, guidelines, and credentials"; how are these identified?

Standards include any criteria, protocols, or specifications for conduct, performance, services, or products in psychology or related areas. Included are both required and recommended standards, because courts have said that the recommendations of a prestigious association might have a "chilling effect" on members who might otherwise act contrary to a recommendation. Guidelines likewise include pronouncements, statements, or declarations that suggest or recommend specific professional behavior, endeavor, or conduct for psychologists or those who deal with psychologists. As with standards, concern is warranted with respect to guidelines whether or not any enforcement mechanism is applicable. Credentials include any criteria or requirements that are conditions for obtaining titles, designations, memberships, or membership classes. Whenever experience, qualifications, or competence are reviewed, credentialing likely occurs. Of particular concern are standards, guidelines, and credentials that affect economic interests or competition, since the law prohibits unreasonable criteria and inadequate procedures in those cases.

3. How is "consensus" achieved for standards, guidelines, or credentials?

The concept of consensus in developing, interpreting, or enforcing a program of standards or credentials includes a sincere attempt to obtain the views of all who will be affected by the program, both inside and outside of APA, and careful consideration of those views; it does not require unanimity of support, as long as dissenters' views have been considered and rejected for valid reasons not related to economic interests or competition. The essentials of consensus-building are distribution of proposals among those who will be significantly affected, solicitation of their comments, and careful consideration of those comments. It is desirable to document and retain documentation of the circulation of proposals and consideration of any comments.

4. What "due process" is required in programs of standards, guidelines, or credentials?

Private associations such as APA are not required to follow the complex procedures of governmental entities. However, when dealing with standards, guidelines, or credentials that affect economic interests or competition, private associations may be regarded as "quasi-governmental." They should provide at least the basic elements of due process. In most cases this includes notice to one who may be affected by a decision; opportunity to challenge, including possibly at an informal hearing; and appeal to some body other than the body that made the original decision.

5. Who should have routine access to APA letterhead?

In most cases, only APA staff should have routine access to APA letterhead, since staff should be involved in preparing or reviewing all official correspondence.

6. Are emergency meetings precluded by the Guidelines?

No. Routine meetings should be scheduled in advance with notice and the agenda distributed to attendees. But there may well be need for emergency meetings. In those cases, there should at least be minutes prepared and distributed to attendees.

7. Can private meetings be held, such as to evaluate APA staff?

Yes. There should not be "secret" or clandestine meetings of any APA bodies. But there may be legitimate reasons to meet in executive session or otherwise to preserve confidentiality. Evaluation of association staff is likely such a reason.