Ethics and conflict of interest
University of Washington employees are heir to a 150-year commitment to honesty and integrity in conducting our mission of education, research, and public service. As trustees of that legacy, we must hold ourselves and one another to the highest ethical standards, with a deep respect for the rules and standards that define the right way to conduct our work. In the course of your job, you may face a variety of ethical issues. You should speak with your supervisor about your ethics-based questions and concerns in order to prevent unintentional ethics violations.
Here is some general guidance on the most common topics:
Because University resources are intended solely for University teaching, research, service, and administrative purposes, you may use University resources for personal reasons only under limited circumstances.
Allowable personal use of University resources
You may use University resources for personal reasons if the use meets all of the following conditions:
- Costs the University little to nothing
- Is brief
- Is infrequent
- Does not interfere with your work duties
- Does not compromise the security or integrity of University property, information, or software
Examples of allowable use:
- Calling your doctor to schedule an appointment using a University phone
- Using your work computer on an occasional basis to check UW job postings or your UW retirement account
- Emailing your child’s school to inform them your child will be out sick that day
Misuse of University resources
You may not use University facilities, computers, or equipment for your personal gain or benefit or for the gain or benefit of another individual or outside organization.
Examples of misuse:
- Sending an email to your coworkers to advertise your personal web design business
- Posting political information (such as promotional materials for candidates or initiatives) in the employee lunch room
- Streaming internet radio on a University computer
- Making a long distance phone call to a relative using a University phone line
- Using a University copy machine to print flyers for your garage sale
As a University employee, you may hold other jobs or engage in consulting work in addition to your University position, as long as you:
- Obtain advance approval of your outside work
- Can fully meet your University employment obligations
- Do not use University resources in your outside work
- Avoid conflicts of interest between your outside work and your University position
- Identify yourself clearly as an independent professional and not as a representative of the University, if your outside work is as a consultant
To request approval for outside work, complete a Outside Work - Request for Approval - Professional and Classified Staff (PDF) and submit it to your immediate supervisor.
You may accept a gift or gratuity in relation to your position with the University as long as the gift or gratuity:
- Is not given with the intent to influence your vote, judgment, or action
- Cannot be seen as a reward for action or inaction in your job duties
Under state law, the total dollar value you may receive from any single source in a calendar year is $50. This amount also includes any gifts your family members or guests receive, unless that family member or guest has an independent relationship with the donor.
If you participate in contracting or purchasing as part of your UW responsibilities, you are subject to additional restrictions regarding accepting gifts. Please review RCW 42.52.150 (subsection 4) for specific guidance on accepting gifts in your position.
Conflict of interest is defined as any activity that may create, or be perceived to create, a conflict between your obligations to the University and your self-interest. Employees are expected to act in the best interest of the University and to protect the University from both actual conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts of interest. If you know, or even just suspect, that some of your activities may pose a conflict of interest, you must disclose them to your supervisor.
Conflicts of interest can arise when:
- An employee participates in University business in which they (or someone close to them such as a spouse or child) may receive personal gain.
- Example: An employee purchases supplies for the University from their spouse’s company.
- An employee uses their connection with the University to benefit another person or organization.
- Example: An employee allows a nonprofit organization to hold a meeting in a University facility without proper authorization or payment.
- An employee accepts money, gratuity, or reward from another person who is interested in a contract, sale, lease, purchase, or grant with the University.
- Example: An employee accepts Seahawk season tickets in exchange for preferential treatment in University contract negotiations.
- An employee has influence over a household member’s employment at UW. Influence may include, but is not limited to: hiring, dismissal, performance evaluation, promotion, demotion, and approval of salary increases or decreases
- Example: An employee supervises their daughter.
- An employee uses University resources for the private benefit or gain of the employee or another.
- Example: An employee borrows a University digital projector for a presentation to customers of his outside consulting business.
Reporting ethics violations
Reporting to the University
Campus employees can report possible violations by contacting their department management, their HR consultant, or the UW Financial Fraud & Ethics Hotline (1-844-518-1420). The hotline is available 24/7, 365 days a year and can also be accessed online at uwhuskies.ethicspoint.com.
UW Medicine employees can report possible violations by contacting the UW Medicine Compliance Hotline.
Any employee reporting possible ethics violations in good faith is protected against retaliation under University policy.
Reporting to the state
Employees can also report improper governmental actions through the state whistleblower program. For a summary of the State Employee Whistleblower Act, read APS 47.1.
Penalties for ethics violations
Ethics violations are taken very seriously by the University and may result in corrective action, up to and including dismissal.
University corrective action is separate from and in addition to any action taken by the state. The state has the authority to impose monetary penalties and pursue prosecution against any state employee who violates the Washington state Ethics in Public Service Act.
This page offers an overview of the University’s expectations regarding ethical behavior. For a more detailed look into this issue, read the UW Guide to Ethics Policies published by Internal Audit.
Supervisors are held responsible for upholding the University’s ethical work environment and can never exempt any employee from the state ethics law or University ethics policies. Supervisors should contact Internal Audit or their HR consultant as needed for ethical guidance.
APS 47.1 Summary of the State Employee Whistleblower Act
APS 47.2 Personal Use of University Facilities, Computers, and Equipment by University Employees
APS 47.3 Outside Consulting Activities and Part-time Employment by Professional or Classified Staff Employees
APS 47.10 Policy on Financial Irregularities and Other Related Illegal Acts
Executive Order No. 32 Employee Responsibilities and Employee Conflict of Interest
Executive Order No. 57 Outside Professional Work Policy
RCW 42.52.140 and 42.52.150 (gifts for state employees)