This document provides a summary of the law in this area and answers questions frequently asked of attorneys in the Office of General Counsel. However, the information presented here is intended for informational purposes only and nothing in this document should be construed or relied upon as legal advice. The Office of General Counsel or your Campus Legal Counsel should be consulted regarding the specific facts and circumstances associated with any legal matter.
All University of Wisconsin System employees are required to comply with the code of ethics applicable to their employment status. These codes are designed to prevent conflicts between an employee's private interests and public responsibilities.
- The standards for UW System employees who are state public officials (generally high-level administrators) are found in Chapter 19 of the Wisconsin statutes.
- The rules for unclassified employees (generally faculty and academic staff employees) are in Ch. UWS 8, Wisconsin Administrative Code.
- The rules for classified employees (generally most other UW System employees) are in Ch. ER-MRS 24, Wisconsin Administrative Code.
Code of Ethics for State Public Officials
UW System employees who are state public officials must comply with the ethical standards in the code of ethics for public officials and employees (Wis. Stats. § 19.41 et. seq.). This group includes, generally, the President, vice presidents, and associate and assistant vice presidents of the University of Wisconsin System. Chancellors and vice chancellors of each System university are state public officials. Members of the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System are also state public officials.
The State Ethics Board interprets this code. State public officials who have questions relating to themselves or their organizations may request, in writing, advisory opinions from the Board. The Board reviews these requests in closed session, and opinions are confidential to the extent permitted by law.
Code of Ethics for Unclassified Employees
The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents has established a code of ethics for unclassified employees. This code is located in Ch. UWS 8, Wisconsin Administrative Code, and essentially tracks the code of ethics for public officials and employees.
Conflicts of Interest
UWS 8 addresses conflicts of interest, but also states that the Board of Regents does not intend to prohibit an unclassified staff member from freely pursuing teaching, research, and professional and public service activities which will not result in conflicts. Conflicts of interest may nonetheless occur in the following situations:
- Use of Public Position or State Property-Unclassified staff members may not use or attempt to use their public positions or state property to gain anything of substantial value for the private benefit of themselves, their families, or organizations in which they have a significant financial interest. Organizations in which a staff member has a significant financial interest are organizations in which the employee, or a member of the employee's immediate family, is a director, officer or trustee, or owns or controls (directly or indirectly, severally or in the aggregate) at least 10% of the outstanding equity. Examples include corporations, partnerships, proprietorships, firms, enterprises, franchises, associations, or trusts.
- Acceptance of Money or Gifts-Unclassified staff members may not accept anything of value with the understanding that the reward will influence their conduct of university business.
- Confidentiality-Unclassified staff members may not use or disclose confidential university information in a way that could result in the receipt of something valuable for themselves, their families, or organizations in which they have a significant financial interest.
- Awarding Contracts-Unclassified employees, their families, or organizations in which they have a financial interest may not enter into contracts or leases derived from state funding if the employee is in a position to influence the awarding of the contract. This rule applies only to a contract or lease involving payments of more than $3,000 within a 12-month period. An exception to this rule occurs when the employee discloses the potential conflict, when the employee is not in a position to influence the award of the contract, and when the employee's dean, director, or appropriate administrator approves the contract. Deans and directors may approve such contracts if they determine that the contract will not substantially conflict with the employee's official duties.
- Nepotism-An unclassified employee may not participate in the decision to hire or promote a member of his or her immediate family. Giving preferential treatment in the supervision of an immediate family member is also prohibited. Immediate family member is defined as the unclassified staff member's spouse, and any person who receives, directly or indirectly, more than one half of his or her support from the unclassified staff member or from whom the unclassified staff member receives, directly or indirectly, more than one half of his or her support.
- Use of University Facilities, Absence from Regular Duties for
the Purpose of
Engaging in Outside Activity, and Types of Activities that May Result in Conflict of Interes t-Check with your institution for policies on these matters. Your institution should have policies regulating the use of university facilities and university personnel in connection with outside activities. Your institution should also have standards on absence from university duties in relation to outside activities, and guidelines listing examples of activities that might present a material conflict of interest. While consulting and other outside activities are permitted, such activities must not be allowed to interfere with the performance of an unclassified employee's job duties.
An unclassified employee may engage in outside activities related to the employee's field of interest unless the activities conflict with the employee's public responsibilities to the University of Wisconsin System, or to the employee's individual institution. Unclassified employees must report, in writing, their involvement in outside activities every April 30th. Outside activity reports are public records. The reporting period is the previous calendar year. All unclassified employees must submit these reports, whether or not they have engaged in outside activities. Employees must submit these reports to their dean, director, or to an appropriate administrator. Some reportable activities are listed below:
- Associations with organizations in which the employee, or a member of the employee's immediate family, has a significant financial interest, and which are related to the staff member's field of academic specialization.
- Private Remunerative Relationships between an unclassified employee and a non-governmental sponsor of university research for which the employee is a principal investigator.
- Remunerative Outside Activities in an unclassified employee's field of academic interest or specialization, and whether the employee earns for such activities $5000 or more per year from a single source. This provision includes, but is not limited to, consulting.
Avoiding Conflicts of Interest
Unclassified employees must report potential conflicts of interest as they arise to their dean, director, or other appropriate administrator by means of a written statement describing the nature of the potential conflict. The dean or director shall advise the employee, in writing and within 15 days after receipt of the report, of one of the three following conclusions:
- That there is no conflict;
- That the situation requires further investigation; or
- That there is a conflict which must be resolved either by the staff member not proceeding with his university duties so long as the conflict remains, or by not proceeding with his personal duties so long as the conflict remains.
Employees may also consult their institution's ethics committee. These committees provide unclassified employees with advice on the application of UWS 8. All committee deliberations are confidential to the extent permitted by law and take place in closed meetings.
Code of Ethics for Classified Employees
The Department of Employee Relations has established a code of ethics that applies to all classified state employees, including employees of the UW System and its component parts. This code is located at Ch. ER-MRS 24, Wisconsin Administrative Code.
Conflicts of Interest
ER-MRS 24 describes prohibited conflicts of interest which occur when an employee's actions may reasonably be expected to produce a private benefit to that employee, a member of that employee's immediate family, or an organization in which the employee has a significant financial interest. ER-MRS 24 discusses conflicts of interest in relation to the following categories:
- Use of State Property-Classified employees may not use state property to gain financial or other benefits, advantages, or privileges for themselves, their families, or organizations in which they have a financial interest.
- Accepting Money or Gifts-Classified employees may not accept money or anything of value if the reward could reasonably be expected to influence the employee's official actions, or could be viewed as a reward for any official action or inaction. If representing the state in a lecture or other appearance, the employee may not accept fees or honoraria or personal reimbursement for expenses. However, employees may accept fees and honoraria paid for lectures or appearances on their own time, so long as they notify their appointing authority (the individual who hired them) prior to accepting the fees. Also, employees may accept unsolicited achievement awards if approved by their appointing authority beforehand.
- Confidentiality-Classified employees may not use or disclose information gained in the course of employment in a way that could result in the receipt of anything of value for themselves, their families, or organizations in which they have a significant financial interest.
- Awarding Contracts-Classified employees, their families, or organizations in which they have a financial interest may not enter into contracts or leases derived from state funding. This rule applies only to a contract or lease involving payments of more then $3,000 within a 12-month period. An exception to this rule occurs when the employee discloses the potential conflict, and when the employee's appointing authority approves the contract. Appointing authorities may approve such contracts if they determine that doing so will not interfere with the employee's official duties.
- Nepotism-Classified employees may recommend, hire, or promote members of their immediate family for permanent, seasonal, or sessional positions if the family member has been certified from an open or competitive promotional register. Employees may not recommend or hire family members for a limited term or project appointment, nor may employees give preferential management decisions to employees who are members of their immediate family. Immediate family is defined as the classified employee's spouse, and the employee's relatives by marriage, consanguinity or adoption, and any person who receives, directly or indirectly, more than one half of his support from the classified employee or from whom the classified employee receives, directly or indirectly, more than one half of his support. Note that the definition of "immediate family" in the code of ethics for classified employees is different from the definition in the code of ethics for unclassified employees.
Avoiding Conflicts of Interest
Employees who may be involved in any matter that could result in a conflict of interest should take one of two courses of action:
- The employee may notify his or her appointing authority in writing. The notification should include a description of the matter requiring a decision and the nature of the conflict of interest issue. The appointing authority may choose to relieve the employee of the questionable assignment.
- The employee may request an advisory opinion from the Department of Employee Relations administrator of merit recruitment and selection. The employer may also request an advisory opinion. The administrator may protect the identity of the person requesting an advisory opinion, or persons mentioned in an opinion.