Ethics and Conflict of Interest
- I. Policy Statement and Reason for the Policy
- II. Ethical Principles
- III. Reporting Suspected Violations
- IV. Conflict of Interest
- V. Examples
It is the goal of Emerson College to adhere to the highest ethical standards in all that it does. The College expects that faculty, staff, and student employees ("Employees") will adhere to such ethical standards in their dealings with each other and with those beyond the College community. This Policy is intended to align with College values of equity, diversity, inclusion and access. This includes engaging in ethical behavior, avoiding conflicts of interest, and considering how one’s workplace actions reflect on the College’s ability to fulfill its educational mission free from the appearance of impropriety. Employees must safeguard and preserve the College’s assets and resources, avoid allowing personal gain or benefit to cloud business judgment, and deal with one another and third parties in a respectful and fair manner. Employees are expected to assume personal responsibility and accountability for understanding or seeking information about ethical principles, laws or regulations that apply to their work, and the obligations associated with contract and grant requirements. The College as an institution will comply with requirements that govern its conduct and engage in behavior that reflects its own high standards of integrity and quality. Accordingly, this policy sets forth Employee obligations on compliance with laws, regulations, and contracts; gift acceptance; use of College resources, and other matters of ethics. Individual departments may set more restrictive policies or use additional protocols or controls to comply with particular regulations or operational needs.
- “Family” means spouse, child, parent, or sibling, or anyone residing with Employees.
- “Gift” A “gift” is any item, service, favor, gratuity, or other benefit offered to Employees, or to a member of Employees’ family, by someone seeking a decision by, or relationship with, the College. Gifts include, but are not limited to, goods and services, food, beverage, travel, lodging, admission to entertainment, discounts, and cash or cash equivalents such as gift cards, vouchers, or credits.
- “Employees” are faculty, staff, and student employees.
B. Compliance with Laws
The College will transact its business in compliance with the laws of the jurisdictions in which it does business. Employees must familiarize themselves with any legal obligations arising out of the work done for the College, including but not limited to the obligations to comply with applicable record-keeping requirements and not to retaliate against anyone who reports a suspected violation of the law. If questions arise regarding compliance with the law, or if it appears that a College policy conflicts with the relevant law, the Employees who become aware of that situation should contact the College office that has oversight responsibility for the policy, or the Office of the General Counsel.
C. Contractual and Grant Obligations
In addition to its commitment to comply with applicable laws, the College recognizes its contractual obligations to donors, the government, suppliers, research sponsors, employees and others with whom it contracts. Regardless of the source of funds, the College will adhere to its contractual obligations.
D. Integrity and Quality
The College strives for excellence in administration as well as academics. Even the appearance of misconduct or impropriety can cause severe damage to the College's reputation. As such, Employees must strive at all times to maintain the highest standards of quality and integrity.
E. Confidential Information
Employees may have access to confidential, proprietary and private information. Those who have access to this information may not make any unauthorized use or disclosures of the information, either during or after employment.
F. Financial Reporting
All College accounts, financial reports, tax returns, expense reimbursements, time records and other documents, including those submitted to government agencies, must be accurate, clear, timely, and complete. All entries in College books and records, including departmental accounts and individual expense reports, must accurately reflect each transaction.
G. Authority to Contract
Before signing a contract for either the expenditure of funds or that otherwise binds the College to act or accept funds, Employees must ensure that the transaction is in accordance with applicable College procedures. They should consult applicable College policies on signatory authority and/or contracting. If there is any ambiguity, they should seek written confirmation from Procurement and Business Operations Strategies that they have the authority to bind the College to a legal obligation for the purchase of goods or services; or from either the Vice President of their unit or the Office of General Counsel to confirm that they have the authority to enter into other types of contracts.
H. Use of College Resources
Employees shall safeguard College resources, using them for their intended purposes and taking reasonable steps to prevent damage or theft. Employees shall not use College resources, including College space, for non-College purposes, including business or commercial use, with the exception of occasional, de minimis personal use that has no financial or operational impact. Employees may use College letterhead only in connection with College business. Employees may not use the College name or marks to endorse a product or service. Employees must comply with the College’s Brand Policy with respect to any licensing or permissions regarding the College name and marks, including logos. College resources may not be used to support or oppose a candidate for public office. The College’s ability to take a position on legislation is limited, and no employee should support or oppose legislation using College resources without the prior approval of the Vice President & Special Assistant to the President or another official designated by the Office of the President to address particular legislative topics.
I. Policy on Gifts
- Prohibition on Gifts. Employees may not solicit gifts, and no Employees may accept a gift unless it is specifically authorized by this policy. Under no circumstances may Employees solicit or accept a gift involving payment of travel or lodging expenses, unless the donor is a not-for-profit entity.
- Promotional Items. Employees may accept promotional items of nominal value, such as mugs, pens, mouse pads and similar items that vendors routinely distribute to customers.
- Media/Sample items. Employees may accept, on behalf of the College or for possible use in College work, printed materials, media such as CDs, DVDs, videotapes or software, temporary licenses or samples for the purpose of evaluation or review, so long as the total value does not exceed $500 unless they obtain the approval of their supervisor or, in the case of faculty, their Dean. Faculty may accept textbooks so long as the value does not exceed $300 unless they obtain approval of their Dean.
- Perishable gifts. Employees may accept perishable gifts such as flowers and food with a value of $300 or less.
- Meals, Beverages, and Entertainment. Unless there is a departmental policy to the contrary, in the course of conducting College matters Employees may accept food and beverages offered as a gesture of common courtesy at meals or receptions, and entertainment when it would be impractical or uncivil to decline. The College expects Employees to exercise restraint and good judgment under this exception, and to decline or reimburse for frequent or extravagant food, beverage, or entertainment.
Employees must obtain the written approval of their Vice President, preferably in advance, when the value of the food, beverage, or entertainment is estimated to be $500 or more. Vice Presidents must obtain the written approval of the President, and the President must obtain the written approval of the Chair of the Board of Trustees.
- Social or Ceremonial Gifts. On occasion Employees may be offered social or ceremonial gifts in connection with their College duties in situations where it is awkward or impolite to decline. Examples of such gifts include gifts from visiting individuals whose traditions include a recognized culture of gift-giving; gifts in appreciation of a particular courtesy or service, such as from a parent, student, or alumnus, or gifts in connection with a significant event, such as a promotion or the birth of a child. Unless there is a departmental policy to the contrary, Employees may accept a social or ceremonial gift, so long as the value of the gift (or of all gifts from the same source in any 12-month period) is less than $300. The College expects Employees to exercise restraint and good judgment under this exception, and to consult their supervisor if acceptance of the gift would create an appearance of impropriety. Where the value of the gift is estimated to be $300 or more, Employees shall either (i) decline or return the gift or (ii) accept the gift on behalf of the College and surrender it to the Vice President for Institutional Advancement so that it may properly accepted and acknowledged as a gift in kind to the College.
J. Employee Ethical Conduct
While interacting with other members of the College community, engaging in College business, using College information or resources, or participating in a College-sponsored activity, whether on or off campus, Employees must act ethically and engage in appropriate conduct. Inappropriate conduct includes, by way of example, in addition to behavior otherwise prohibited by other College policies, to the extent not already clear, the over-consumption of alcoholic beverages at a College event or event attended as a representative of the College, making unwanted contact with co-workers about matters unrelated to the workplace, using College databases and contact information available through one’s employment to promote fundraising efforts outside of the College, or making misrepresentations about one’s ability to influence College policy or decision-making for personal gain.
K. Consequences of Violations
Individuals are responsible for ensuring that their own conduct and the conduct of anyone reporting to them fully comply with this Code and with the College’s other policies, including any code of conduct. Violations may result in the taking of appropriate disciplinary action up to and including discharge from employment. Disciplinary action will be taken in accordance with the procedures applicable to faculty, staff, or students, as the case may be. Conduct representing a violation of this Code may, in some circumstances, also subject an individual to civil or criminal charges and penalties.
A. Reporting to Management
The College welcomes good faith reports of suspected violations. Employees who make good faith reports of a violation shall not be subject to harassment, retaliation, or adverse employment consequences as a result of making a report. Employees should report suspected violations of applicable laws, government or College regulations, government or industrial contract and grant requirements, or this Policy. This reporting should normally be made initially through standard management channels, beginning with the immediate supervisor. Alternatively, employees may go to a higher level of management and may also report suspected violations or problems to the Vice President for Finance and Administration, or the Vice President and General Counsel. If a violation is reported anonymously, the College will investigate the violation if sufficient detail is provided to allow for an investigation. The College also maintains a reporting hotline and portal through a third party provider, EthicsPoint.
All employees must cooperate fully in the investigation of any misconduct.
Employees should avoid situations that create or appear to create conflicts between their personal interests and the interests of the College. All decisions made by Employees in the course of their professional responsibilities to the College are to be made solely on the basis of their desire to promote the best interests of the College.
Conflict Certification. Upon hire, and on an annual basis, staff employees must certify in the applicable system of record (such as in paper files or HRIS system), as directed by that they are not aware of any conflict between their personal interests and the interests of the College.
If individuals’ personal interests might lead an independent observer reasonably to question whether their actions or decisions on behalf of the College are influenced by those personal interests, the individuals should recuse themselves from the decision-making process and notify the responsible College officials, as described in more detail in this policy. In the event that Employees have a significant financial, personal or professional interest that could potentially create a conflict of interest or the perception of one in any transaction involving the College, such person shall, as soon as the person has knowledge of the transaction, take the following actions:
- Disclosure. Disclose fully in writing (email is permissible) the precise nature of the Employee’s interest in such transaction to those at the College involved with the transaction, or to the applicable Dean, Department Chair, Supervisor, or other independent responsible authority; and
- Non-Participation. Refrain from participation (including acting individually or as a member of a committee or other group) in the College's consideration of the proposed transaction unless expressly permitted to do so by a responsible authority of the College.
For purposes of this policy:
"Significant financial interest" shall mean any direct or indirect interest with monetary value, including but not limited to:
- salary, other payments for services (e.g., consulting fees or honoraria), royalties or other payments that, when aggregated for the individual and the individual's spouse over the next twelve months, are expected to exceed $10,000;
- equity interests (e.g. stocks, stock options or other ownership interests) that, when aggregated for the individual and the individual's spouse, either exceeds $10,000 in value (as determined through reference to public prices) or represents more than five percent (5%) ownership interest in any single entity;
- intellectual property rights (e.g., patents, copyrights and royalties from such rights). Employees’ intellectual property rights for work created at the College or using College resources is also governed by the College’s Intellectual Property Policy.
The term "significant financial interest" does not include:
- salary, royalties, or other remuneration from the College; or
- income from seminars, lectures, or teaching engagements sponsored by US Federal, state, or municipal entities.
C. Outside Employment and/or Business Interests
- ECCAAUP Faculty. ECCAAUP members’ ability to engage in outside employment is governed by its collective bargaining agreement with the College.
- SEIU staff. SEIU members’ ability to engage in outside employment is governed by their collective bargaining agreement with the College.
- Other full-time staff and administrators. Full-time staff and administrators who are not subject to a collective bargaining agreement must comply with the College’s Outside Employment Policy and if applicable, any additional limitations on outside employment that appear in individual offer letters or employment contracts.
All persons subject to this policy are expected to comply fully and promptly with it. Instances of deliberate breach of policy, violation of the guidelines, failure to comply with prescribed monitoring procedures, will be reported to the appropriate senior College Official.
Known violations, disputes and other issues arising out of the application of this policy to employees may be referred to the President for appropriate action.
- A friend of a College employee asks for a favor. The friend is a parent of a student at the College. The friend would like to know the student’s grades, but the student has not given the parent permission and there is no FERPA exception allowing the parent access to this information. The College employee agrees to tell the friend the child’s grades. This violates the policy. The employee is responsible for keeping confidential College information confidential.
- An administrator is purchasing computer software for the College. The software company sends the administrator a contract to sign. The administrator does not understand everything in the contract, but signs it anyway because the administrator believes the software is needed immediately. This violates the policy. The administrator is responsible for understanding the requirements of the contracts signed on behalf of the College, and for consulting Procurement when the contract is unclear.
- A donor makes a significant gift to the College on January 1. The College gift officer agrees to date the gift receipt December 31, so that the donor can get the tax deduction in the previous year. This violates the policy. The gift officer must create accurate records on behalf of the College.
- A faculty member supports a candidate for governor. The faculty member sends a letter to the editor, on College stationery, explaining their support for the candidate. This violates the policy. College letterhead may only be used for College business, and the faculty member’s expression of a personal opinion is not College business. Furthermore, College resources cannot be used to support or oppose a candidate for public office.
- A faculty member supports a candidate for governor. The faculty member invites the candidate to speak to a class. This may be permissible, depending on the circumstances. The faculty member should be sure that the candidate’s remarks are relevant to the subject of the class. The faculty member should not permit the candidate to use the class to support the candidacy or oppose that of another. The faculty member should be sensitive to the College’s reputation for fairness and integrity, perhaps by ensuring that candidates with opposing views are also invited to speak to the class. The faculty member should check with their dean before any political invitation is issued.
- An employee is a dog-walker during free time. The employee uses a College telephone to make a quick call confirming that evening’s appointment with a client. This may be permissible, depending on the circumstances. In general, employees may not make non-College use of College resources. However, occasional, de minimis use that has no financial or operational impact is permissible.
- An employee sells vitamins during free time. The employee puts a College email and telephone number on the vitamin marketing materials, spends about half an hour a day responding to client calls and emails, and invites clients to view new product lines in the College’s department conference room. This violates the policy. The use is more than occasional and de minimis, and is likely to have an operational impact on the College. Furthermore, the College’s Electronic Information Policy prohibits use of the College’s computing facilities and services for non-College business or consulting purposes.
- An employee gets two professional sporting event tickets from an old friend. This is permissible. It is not a “gift” within the meaning of the policy so long as the old friend is not seeking a decision by, or a relationship with, the College.
- A faculty member who assists the admissions office in reviewing applicants’ creative work gets two professional sporting event tickets from an old friend whose child has applied to the College and submitted a portfolio of creative work. This violates the policy. Employees may not accept a gift from someone who seeks a decision by, or a relationship with, the College, unless the gift falls within a specific exception. There is no exception that covers tickets under these circumstances.
- A College employee accepts a vendor’s invitation to fly, at the vendor’s expense, to another state to evaluate the vendor’s product. This violates the policy. Under no circumstances may a College employee accept a gift involving payment of travel or lodging expenses from someone representing a for-profit entity who seeks a relationship with or a decision by the College.
- A vendor takes employees to lunch to discuss the vendor’s products. In general, this is permissible. Employees may accept food and beverages offered as a gesture of common courtesy even from those seeking a relationship with, or a decision by, the College. However, certain departments at the College have departmental policies that may be more restrictive than this general policy and may prohibit acceptance of meals.
- The parents of a student send a faculty member a gold fountain pen just before final grades are due. This may not be permissible, depending on the circumstances. Employees may accept social or ceremonial gifts in connection with their College duties in situations where it is awkward or impolite to decline. However, the College expects employees to exercise restraint and good judgment in accepting social or ceremonial gifts, and to avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety. The timing of the gift and final grades may create the appearance of impropriety. Finally, where the value of the gift is estimated to be $300 or more, College employees must either decline or return the gift, or accept it on behalf of the College and give it to the Vice President for Institutional Advancement so it may be properly acknowledged as a gift to the College.
- A supervisor told an employee that the supervisor makes false time entries, failing to account for vacation days. The employee is uncomfortable and reports this to Human Resources. At the employee’s annual review, the supervisor gives the employee a low evaluation and withholds a pay raise. This may violate the policy if the supervisor’s actions are due to the employee’s report, rather than job performance. Employees are encouraged to make good faith reports of suspected violations of this policy, such as falsifying College records, and employees may not retaliate against someone who makes a good faith report.
- A College employee needs a graphic designer for a College project. The employee contracts with the child of a friend, who is trying to build a graphic design business. This may violate the policy. The employee must make contract decisions solely on the basis of what is best for the College, not on the basis of aiding a friend’s child. Even if the friend’s child is a competent and cost-effective graphic designer, the College employee should disclose the personal relationship, as the policy directs, to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest.
- A College employee’s domestic partner bids on a College project that the employee is supervising. The contract is worth $9,000 a year to the domestic partner. This may violate the policy. The domestic partner is a member of the employee’s family as defined in the policy. Although the contract is not a “significant financial interest” because it does not have an annual value of $10,000 or more, the employee’s personal relationship with the domestic partner might lead an independent observer reasonably to question whether the employee’s actions or decisions on behalf of the College are influenced by those personal interests. The employee must disclose the family relationship, as the policy directs, to avoid a conflict of interest.
- A College employee participates in decisions to buy paper for the College. The employee owns stock in an office products company worth $11,000. That same office products company has a contract to sell paper to the College. The employee has a significant financial interest which the employee must disclose to the College. The employee may not participate in decisions to purchase paper unless expressly permitted to do so by a responsible authority of the College.
Cross References to Related Policies
Responsible Officer: Vice President and General Counsel
Date of Initial Policy: October 2007
Dates of any Revisions: November 22, 2011, June 20, 2018, April 26, 2021
Approved on this 26th day of April, 2021
M. Lee Pelton