On the Chamber of Commerce Professionals Group on Facebook there are often questions that come up about allowing “questionable” albeit legal, businesses to become members. This is a new and broadening frontier as former illegal businesses now may operate legally as well as questions of personal ethics falling under national scrutiny. These are complicated times.
Can a Chamber Refuse Membership to a Legal Business?
The answer is a lot less interesting than the question. That depends on your by-laws, your representation philosophy, and your attorney.
Some chamber by-laws contain code of ethics clauses. While it doesn’t stop a legal business from being a member, it does allow that should a member be found to be violating the law, they can be asked to resign. What happens after that would also be stipulated in the by-laws. Can this member be removed? Or can the chamber merely ask for resignation?
Whether you can disallow a legal business membership based on (your or your community’s) ethical reasons and not the law, would be best addressed by legal counsel.
This is a question that permeates current chamber discussions in all topics — do you represent member businesses or businesses as a whole? If you choose a representational philosophy where you represent all (legal) businesses in your community, any business can join and your chamber would support any legal business in your community. If you represent only member businesses, your by-laws would dictate who could join and who couldn’t.
Some members will try and sway your membership process or ask you to bend the rules and not allow businesses in that they don’t agree with morally.
It may not be membership either that is called into question but an application for a booth at one of your events. Should every legal business be given the opportunity to set up a booth at your event? What if it’s not family friendly?
There are a lot of questions circulating in today’s business climate but before turning away a legal business in a litigious society, it’s best to consult an attorney in your area. As they said at the WACE conference a while back, ‘you can deny membership to anyone as long as you don’t mind going to court.’ (Thanks Mark Sturdevant for that gem.)
Image credit: Graphic Stock