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Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Commitment Policy
Tufts employees are responsible for performing their duties in good faith and in the best interests of the University. In particular, employees are expected to avoid activities, agreements, business investments or interests, or other situations that materially conflict or appear to conflict with the interests of the University or interfere with the individual’s duty to loyally serve the University to the best of his or her ability. This policy applies to both faculty and staff, except as specifically otherwise noted.
A “family member” is (i) a spouse or domestic partner, (ii) a child, stepchild, parent or sibling of an employee or his/her spouse or domestic partner or (iii) any other relative current living with an employee or whose assets the employee controls.
A “financial relationship” means”
(i) serving as employee, consultant, contractor or board member,
(ii) being entitled to receive income, royalties, or payments, or
(iii) having a significant investment or ownership interest.
A “senior manager” means the head of an employee’s division or school (i.e., the Vice President, Vice Provost, Dean or Executive Administrative Dean, as applicable). For a Vice President, Vice Provost, Dean or Executive Administrative Dean, their “senior manager” is the Executive Vice President or the Provost.
A “significant” investment or ownership interest means a total equity interest held by the employee and all family members that exceeds $10,000 in fair market value or represents more than a five percent ownership interest in any single entity.
Conflicts of Interest
A conflict of interest exists when an employee or a family member is in a position to benefit personally, directly or indirectly, from his or her relationship with a person or entity conducting business with the University. All employees have an obligation to avoid conflict, or the appearance of conflict, between their personal interests and the interests of the University and to avoid any situation that affects, or potentially could affect, his or her independent, unbiased judgment in the discharge of his or her duties to the University. An employee should recuse himself or herself from making any decision relating to University business, when the employee is aware of circumstances that might reasonably cause his or her impartiality to be questioned.
To say that one has a conflict of interest does not necessarily mean that the individual involved acted or is expected to act inappropriately. However, if a competing interest exists that creates a conflict of interest concern, certain actions by the individual is required.
Typical conflict situations are:
1. An employee reviews, approves or controls a contractual or business relationship between the University and a business with which the employee or a family member has a financial relationship.
2. An employee supervises, reviews, determines compensation or assigns work to a family member at Tufts.
3. An employee has, or is aware that a family member has, a significant interest in an outside business that provides goods or services to the University.
4. An employee directs a grant, business opportunity or non-public information, that could be beneficial to the University, to a third party with which the employee has, or is aware that a family member has, a financial relationship.
If a family member of an employee lives with the employee, or an employee controls the assets of a family member, the University assumes that the employee will be aware of financial relationships that any such family member has with entities that are doing business with the University. Even if a family member does not live with the employee, an employee is still obligated to report any potential conflict of which he or she becomes aware involving a family member, and recuse himself or herself from any decision to award business or other University benefits to an entity with which a family member is known to have a financial relationship.
Gifts, Entertainment and Gratuities
It is the University’s objective to award business to vendors on the basis of considerations such as quality, service competitive pricing, and technical abilities. Gifts from vendors, contractors, and others conducting business (or seeking to conduct business) with Tufts may appear to be a gesture of goodwill and appreciation and may even be customary business practice, but faculty and staff should be aware that gifts are generally given with the intent to influence a current or future business decision, and accepting such gifts can therefore create conflicts of interest. Acceptance of a gift or other thing of value from a vendor working (or seeking to work) on a grant or contract funded by the Federal government is also prohibited by Federal law. It is the obligation of the employee responsible for a business relationship to handle gifts properly.
Consistent with this commitment, Tufts University employees and members of their immediate families are prohibited from soliciting any personal gift, gratuity, favor, service, discount or other benefit (collectively, a “gift”) from individuals or companies seeking any advantageous action by, or relationship with, the University. The acceptance of a personal gift, even if unsolicited, is also prohibited in most instances. A gift valued in excess of $50 or of undetermined value, unless employed for a University purpose or shared widely within the University or a unit thereof, must be declined or returned immediately. Multiple gifts from a single source in any calendar year are prohibited. Employees are prohibited from accepting gifts of money or their equivalent, regardless of the amount, at any time. Gifts of promotional items without significant value that are routinely distributed by vendors to clients, and courtesy copies of professional printed matter, may be accepted.
The University has determined that it is acceptable to attend an educational event, or a group dinner or hospitality event sponsored by a vendor during a conference, provided that other clients or prospective clients of the vendor are also attending.
Conflicts of Commitment
Non-faculty employees are prohibited from earning additional compensation, either from the University or from an outside party, for work performed during regular working hours. (Faculty members are permitted to spend up to 20% of their time on outside work). Employees may not use University property or facilities for any business, professional or volunteer purpose not related to their position at the University without the written approval of the employee’s senior manager.
When it is in the interest of the University, professional and administrative staff may teach a maximum of one course per year during working hours with the approval of their supervisor. The employee must make up all work hours missed due to teaching; and conference hours, class preparation and other ancillary activities cannot be performed during regular work hours. (The Provost may approve an exception to this requirement where it is in the best interests of the University to do so.)
Supplemental employment, consulting or volunteer work performed outside the University may be undertaken only if it does not:
1. Create a conflict of commitment by interfering with the obligation of the individual to carry out their University duties in a timely and effective manner;
2. Create a conflict of interest with the individual’s status as an employee of the University;
3. Involve any use or exploitation of University supplies, materials, equipment, services, names or insignias;
4. Claim, explicitly or implicitly, any University or institutional responsibility for the conduct or outcome of such activities (a specific disclaimer of University involvement may be required as a conduction of approval of an employee’s supplemental activities); or
5. Usurp an opportunity that would ordinarily be carried out directly by the University.
Reporting and Resolving Conflicts
All employees are required to promptly report to his or her direct manager or senior manager any actual or perceived conflict of interest or conflict of commitment (as defined in accordance with this policy) which arises outside of the annual reporting period. The decision on whether to approve a reported conflict should be made by the Executive Vice President, after consulting with the employee’s senior manager and such other University officials as the Executive Vice President may deem appropriate. Conflicts involving the Executive Vice President shall be reported to and approved or disapproved by the President.
In addition, certain employees who are authorized to make purchases or enter into contractual relationships on behalf of the University will be asked to complete an annual form, disclosing the existence or absence of defined conflict situations. Also, officers and key employees may be asked to complete an annual form contained required disclosure for the Form 990, Schedule L.
No general policy can anticipate every situation, and questions will arise as to whether a specific situation constitutes a conflict of interest or a conflict of commitment, or may give rise to the appearance of such a conflict. Employees are urged, whenever in doubt, to report any applicable conflict to their direct manager or senior manager or to the Executive Vice President. Failure to disclose a reportable interest or relationship or neglecting to comply with the University’s requirements for managing a determined conflict may subject the employee to disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.
Questions & Answers
I intend to use outside printing services to develop the layout for a new student services brochure to be issued next semester. My wife runs a printing and design shop that can perform this type of work. Can I direct the business to her? The total job cost is below the University’s minimum bid requirements.
No. Whether or not the cost of the job is below the bid threshold, there exists a potential conflict of interest since by providing this job to your wife (or other family member or persons living in your household) you might personally benefit. Also, this situation could affect your unbiased judgment in selecting the most qualified print shop for the project. Therefore, you should not negotiate or approve a contract with the shop.
I have an outside consulting practice that solicits business from several sponsoring agencies that provide funding awards to Tufts. Do I need to disclose this relationship?
Yes, this relationship must be disclosed in writing to the Executive Vice President to determine if any potential conflict exists between your outside business and Tufts. A University employee or faculty member may not perform work, either in a self-owned business or as an employee of an outside business, which (i) uses confidential information that the employee receives in the course of his or her employment, (ii) could be considered a “quid pro quo” for the contracting party to obtain University business or (iii) directly or indirectly places the University at a financial or competitive disadvantage.
I am the department FSP (Frontline Support Provider). Last week, my supervisor asked me if I could come over to his house that weekend and upgrade his personally owned computer with the extra memory he recently purchased. I found it hard to say no to his request since I perform the same function for the University. Is this a conflict of interest on his part?
Yes, this would constitute a conflict of interest. Supervisors may not make such requests. This situation can be compared to one in which a supervisor receives a gift from a vendor. Gifts are forbidden by our policies because they may cause the supervisor to feel beholden to the vendor or give the vendor power to coerce the supervisor. In the case of an employee, receipt of a “gift” of the employee’s time creates the same opportunity for a conflict of interest, where the obligation of loyalty to Tufts becomes secondary to other interests. This is true even if the work is, or appears to be, performed voluntarily; it need not be coerced to be wrong.
A vendor servicing my department treats me to sporting events. Is this appropriate?
No. University policy prohibits employees from accepting gifts of any kind from vendors.
A consultant working with the University has offered to let me stay at his vacation home on Cape Cod for the weekend. Should I accept the invitation?
No. Acceptance of this gift would give the appearance of impropriety and therefore would be inappropriate for you to accept the invitation.
A vendor treats me to a meal occasionally. Is this appropriate?
No, it is not appropriate. This invitation would be interpreted as the vendor trying to influence you. You can accept the invitation and pay for your own meal.
In attending a conference, a vendor offers to pay for a group dinner or some type of hospitality event. Is this acceptable for me to participate?
Yes. This is acceptable given that other prospective clients are attending and that it is part of a conference or meeting event.
A vendor sends me a fruit basket during the holidays each year. What should I do?
Either return the gift or, if it is perishable, share it with your staff or donate it to charity. In either event, you should politely inform the vendor that such gifts are prohibited by University policy.