Conflict of Interest and Commitment Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The following are frequently asked questions with answers that apply to all GW Employees and then questions and answers specific to a university role.

General:

What is a conflict of interest?

A conflict of interest is when a GW employee’s financial, professional, or other personal situation directly or indirectly affects, or has the appearance of affecting, their professional judgment in exercising any university duty or responsibility. An example of a conflict of interest would be a GW employee owning a company and then participating in the procurement process to hire that same company to perform work for the university.

What is a conflict of commitment?

Conflict of commitment is a situation in which a GW employee engages in an outside professional activity, paid or unpaid, that compromises, or appears to compromise, their ability to perform their duties for the university. An example would be a GW employee who has a full-time position (work 40 hours a week during normal business hours) but spends 3 hours daily in the afternoon working for their personal company.

What is an example of an outside professional activity?

An example of an outside professional activity would be a compliance officer consulting for another higher education institution on their compliance practices. The compliance officer is using their professional expertise to engage in the work and it is bringing them both professional benefit and personal gain. Please note that not all outside professional activities are compensated. Outside professional activities may also include engagements with entities that directly compete with the university or draw upon the role of the GW employee at the university. Outside professional activities do not include external activities in which the GW employee is serving as a representative of GW, are expected as part of their role, defined within their employment agreement, or requested by the GW employee’s manager. Related interests and relationships are those that relate to your institutional role and activities with the university.

Can I have a second job?

The university does not prohibit secondary employment; however, the role cannot interfere with the performance of your GW duties and time commitment to the university as stipulated in the terms of your employment or expectations of your position. In the secondary employment, you cannot use GW resources, disclose or use GW proprietary information or information only known as a result of your GW role, nor compete with the university for work that is perceived as being work that the university would choose to perform. Please review the Policy on Outside Interests, Relationships, and Professional Activities to eliminate or mitigate any actual, potential, or perceived conflicts with the secondary employment.

I provide clinical services to the university and want to also work at an outside practice. What should I be mindful of?

GW employees who provide clinical services to the university (e.g., counseling or medical services) should not refer patients directly to their outside practices. Including one's practice in a cumulative list of available resources is acceptable but a direct referral would be a conflict of interest. Additionally, clear separation between the interests of industry and recommendations that affect people’s health is essential to maintain public and professional confidence. Individuals that provide clinical care external to the university are expected to adhere to the conflict of interest and conflict of commitment policies at the sites where they practice.

Are there steps I should take before agreeing to engage in an outside professional activity?

GW employees should remain aware of the potential for actual, potential, or perceived conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment when pursuing opportunities and should seek guidance from their manager and the Office of Ethics, Compliance, and Risk in that assessment. GW employees must avoid activities in which they would be directly competing with the university for work that is perceived as being work that the university would choose to perform. The university should not be deprived of appropriate potential financial gain in favor of personal gain. Prior to engaging in outside professional activities, interests, or relationships, GW employees should review the Policy on Outside Interests, Relationships, and Professional Activities to eliminate or mitigate any actual, potential, or perceived conflicts with the secondary employment.

I have a relationship with an outside vendor, can they still do work for the university?

Yes, however, you could not be involved in decisions concerning the purchase or contract of goods or services for the university from the vendor.

What do I need to disclose and how?

You need to disclose any outside professional activities, interests, and relationships that may actually, potentially, or have the perception of, creating a conflict of interest or conflict of commitment as soon as they arise. GW employees can make an ad-hoc disclosure at any time by emailing Ashley Fountaine ([email protected]), Director of Ethics and Compliance.

Periodically, identified GW employees will be asked to complete a disclosure form. Annual disclosure forms are sent via email to identified employees. Additionally, as a part of the sponsored project process, Investigators will be asked to complete a disclosure form to allow for a project-specific review or “transactional review”. It is expected that disclosure forms are completed to the best of the GW employee’s knowledge by the stipulated due date and that if requested, subsequent information be provided.

Is there a dollar threshold for disclosure?

No.

Is making a disclosure a bad thing?

No! There is no wrongdoing in making a disclosure. Engagement in outside professional activities, interests, and relationships allows GW employees to expand their networks and skills, serve the public interest, and enhance their professional discipline, their reputation, and the reputation of the university. Making a disclosure allows for a neutral professional to analyze the information to determine if there is a potential, perceived, or actual conflict of interest or conflict of commitment. This identification still does not imply wrongdoing. The university will make every effort to help GW employees manage and mitigate potential, actual, or perceived conflicts and in limited circumstances will determine that the conflict cannot be managed. Making a disclosure PROTECTS YOU and the university.

Do I need to disclose that I volunteer for my church (or other unrelated non-profit organization)?

No. The university seeks to know the outside professional activities, interests, and relationships that relate to your professional expertise (the reason you were hired by GW) and your university role. An outside professional activity is defined as activities external to GW as a result of that professional expertise that brings professional benefit and/or personal gain. Outside professional activities may also include engagements with entities that directly compete with the university or draw upon the role of the GW employee at the university. Outside professional activities do not include external activities in which the GW employee is serving as a representative of GW, are expected as part of their role, defined within their employment agreement, or requested by the GW employee’s manager. Related interests and relationships are those that relate to your institutional role and activities with the university.

What if I am unsure if my outside professional activity, interest, or relationship needs to be disclosed?

Employees should consult their managers, or refer to their employment agreement as applicable, should guidance be needed as to whether an activity is part of their GW role or meets the definition of an outside professional activity or related interest or relationship. Managers and employees can also consult with Ashley Fountaine ([email protected]), Director of Ethics and Compliance.

What happens after I make a disclosure?

All disclosures are reviewed to determine if there is a potential, perceived, or actual conflict of interest or commitment. If there is no identification of a potential, perceived, or actual conflict, no further action will be taken. The following outcomes are possible as a result of identifying a potential, perceived, or actual conflict: (1) counseling letter; (2) management plan; (3) termination of interest/activity request. Requesting that an employee terminate their outside professional activity, relationships, or interest is rare as the university makes every effort to manage identified conflicts. Please visit the Potential Outcomes from Disclosures webpage to learn more about disclosure outcomes.

Who reviews disclosures?

The nature of the disclosure impacts the parties involved in the review. Generally, the Office of Ethics, Compliance, and Risk leads the review of annual disclosures while disclosures related to research are reviewed and actioned by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. Other administrative offices such as the Office of General Counsel, Office of the Provost, and Office of Clinical Research may be consulted as appropriate as well as clinical partners such as the MFA and GW Hospital. Additionally, school and college leadership are routinely consulted for Faculty and Investigator disclosures.

What is the role of a manager when it comes to conflict of interest and conflict of commitment?

The following are key roles of a manager:

  • Responsible for ensuring their employees are aware and act in accordance with the Policy on Outside Interests, Relationships, and Professional Activities.
  • Assist employees in identifying what constitutes an outside professional activity based on their role and expectations for the university.
  • Ensure employees’ outside professional activities do not interfere with them meeting their university responsibilities and time-owed to the university.
  •  Receive ad-hoc disclosures throughout the year and elevate to the Office of Ethics, Compliance, and Risk.
  •  Approver of gifts exceeding $250.
  • Signature of management plans and responsible for overseeing compliance with the plan.
What happens if I don’t complete my disclosure form?

Completion of an issued disclosure form is required by the Policy on Outside Interests, Relationships, and Professional Activities. Penalties for deliberate violations of the policy will be adjudicated in accordance with applicable disciplinary policies and procedures in the Employee Handbook, Faculty Code, or Librarian Code. For Faculty required to complete an annual report, the annual report is not considered complete if the disclosure form is incomplete impacting merit eligibility. 

What happens if I don’t comply with my management plan?

W employees are responsible for compliance with their management plan and must notify their manager, in writing, of any changes to the circumstances outlined in the plan. Failure to notify of changes or compliance with the plan would be a material breach of the Policy on Outside Interests, Relationships, and Professional Activities and the plan, which may result in disciplinary action. 

A vendor has offered me a watch, can I accept it?

GW employees cannot accept any gift with a value exceeding $250 from any person or entity doing business or seeking to do business with the university, unless approval is received from their manager and the Office of Ethics, Compliance, and Risk. A gift is defined as a tangible or intangible thing, service, or item of value which is transferred for less than its fair market value. A gift may include travel, meals, lodging, service, entertainment, payment of expense, or any other thing that has a market value.

Can I use university resources for outside professional activities, interests, and relationships?

University personnel, equipment, or services should not be used for personal gain except incidental, reasonable use as referenced in the Personal Use of University Resources Policy.

Can someone I am in a personal relationship with also work for GW?

Yes, however, this individual’s employment will be evaluated on their individual merit and professional qualifications. You are not to influence decisions related to recruitment, hiring, or terms and conditions of employment, and you could not have a reporting or supervisor-to-subordinate relationship if hired. Please refer to the Nepotism and Personal Relationships in Employment Policy for more information.

Annual Disclosure Form Questions:

What is the time period for disclosures?

The disclosure form applies to the previous full calendar year through the date that it is issued and any anticipated outside professional activities, interests, or relationships.

If I have disclosed an outside professional activity, interest, or relationship on a past form, do I have to disclose it again this year?

Yes. You must disclose all outside professional activities and related interests and relationships each year.

The disclosure form asks questions related to entities doing business or seeking to do business with the university. What if I don’t know?

GW employees are asked to answer questions on the disclosure form to the best of their knowledge. It is understandable that you do not know every entity the university is doing business with or business the university is seeking to engage in. If you are unsure but it is possible based on the nature of the work of the entity, the cautionary approach would be to disclose.

My colleague can’t find their disclosure form in their email, can I forward mine?

No. The disclosure form linked in the email issued to you is individualized. If you forward the email, your colleague will be filling out your disclosure form. 

How do I go about modifying my disclosure form after submission?

You can modify a disclosure form after admission by contacting Ashley Fountaine ([email protected]), Director of Ethics and Compliance.

Who do I contact for technical questions in completing my disclosure form?

Contact Ashley Fountaine ([email protected]), Director of Ethics and Compliance. 

Faculty:

How much time can I dedicate to outside professional activities?

A full-time Faculty Member may spend the equivalent of up to one working day a week on average during the academic year on outside professional activities provided such commitments do not interfere with primary university obligations. Guidance on how to operationalize this rule as well as commitment guidance for Faculty who are not full time is available in the One Day a Week Rule Guidance.

I serve on the board of my national professional organization, do I have to disclose that?

No. Outside professional activities do not include external activities expected within the role of a Faculty Member or as defined in their appointment letter. Faculty are expected to engage in routine service as a part of their role at GW which would include service to a national professional organization. However, the bucket of “service” can be a slippery slope and Faculty are asked to be critical in identifying what constitutes service as a part of their GW appointment and should seek guidance from their department chair.

I want to use my self-authored textbook in my classroom, am I allowed to do that?

Yes; however, it is recommended that approval be obtained through a departmental or school/college review of the intellectual property in question. The assignment of a required textbook you author, or intellectual property you prepared, may be perceived as obtaining financial or personal gain unless an objective review is conducted to determine its appropriateness. Departmental or school/college review allows for that objective review.

What steps do I need to take to engage in outside teaching?

Teaching outside of the university has the potential to compete with the university’s own offerings and opportunities. Faculty must seek advance approval for remunerated external teaching during the academic year from (1) department chair, or unit head for academic units without a department chair, (2) dean or dean delegate, (3) provost or provost delegate.

What steps do I need to take to engage in outside research?

Conducting research outside of the university has the potential to compete with the university for work that the university would want to engage in. Faculty must seek advance approval for remunerated external research during the academic year from (1) department chair, or unit head for academic units without a department chair, (2) dean or dean delegate, (3) provost or provost delegate.

Can I hire students to work for my personal company?

Decisions about whether to involve students in a Faculty Member’s outside professional activities or interests will be guided by determining whether the proposed activities best serve the interests of the student. Faculty cannot require students to become involved in their outside professional activities or interests. Safeguards must be instituted to ensure that the performance of university duties and the research and educational missions of the university are not compromised. In particular, Faculty must avoid even the appearance of directing students into research activities or outside professional activities that primarily serve their own personal interests at the expense of students' educational or scholarly interests, needs, and performance. Interest in hiring a student should be disclosed to the Office of Ethics, Compliance, and Risk, who will collaborate with other applicable offices as needed

Investigators:

Why am I being asked to complete an additional disclosure form as a part of the sponsored project process if I have already completed the annual disclosure form?

Completion of a transactional disclosure form specific to a research project allows the university to meet the disclosure requirements of external sponsors, including federal government agencies. As such, an up-to-date disclosure must be on file with the Office of Research Integrity and Compliance in the Office for the Vice Provost for Research for each Investigator on a proposal before the proposal can be submitted to the sponsor by the institution, and/or for each PI and Co-Investigator on an IRB protocol before a protocol can be approved by an Institutional Review Board (IRB). Investigators must update their transactional disclosure form within 30 calendar days of discovering, acquiring, or establishing any new significant financial interests or changes in any existing significant financial interests that might reasonably be related to their GW responsibilities.

Where can I learn more about conflict of interest related to research/sponsored projects?

Conflict of interest related to research is managed by the Office of Research Integrity and Compliance within the Office for the Vice Provost for Research and educational information is available on their Conflict of Interest website.  

Executives:

Why do I have advance approval requirements?

As leaders and decision-makers of the organization, there is a greater level of scrutiny of outside professional activities, interests, and relationships engaged in by Executives. Scrutiny via advance approval helps ensure that outside professional activities, interests, and relationships do not impair the independence or objective judgment of the Executive in fulfilling their GW responsibilities.

Who do I need to get advance approval from?

Executives are broken into two subgroups: Designated Officials include the president, vice presidents (including the provost), deans, and others whose compensation is subject to review by the Board of Trustees; Select Administrators are administrators in positions designated under GW Human Resource Management & Development’s classification streams E1 through E3, Senior Counsel, and those otherwise designated by the President or Chair of the Board. Designated Officials must seek and document advance approval from the supervising vice president or the president and then from the appropriate committee of the Board of Trustees. Select Administrators must seek and document advance approval from their manager and the appropriate vice president in consultation with the Office of Ethics, Compliance, and Risk.

What are those outside professional activities that require advance approval?

The outside professional activities requiring advance approval are those that involve any of the following:

  • Ownership or control of, or fiduciary obligations to (i.e., founder, CEO, trustee, or director) an outside entity;
  • Receipt of a single payment in excess of $2,500 per year for outside professional activities;
  • Receipt of total payments in excess of $10,000 per year, from one or more sources, for outside professional activities;
  • Time commitment of five or more days per fiscal year that is required for any singular activity (paid or unpaid), or which may pose a conflict of interest. This includes any outside professional activities that may involve a significant time commitment during business hours or other obligations that may affect responsibilities to the university;
  • Any outside professional activity after collectively exceeding twenty days of outside professional activities in a fiscal year
I am serving on the Board of an organization as a representative of GW with support from my manager. Does this constitute an outside professional activity?

No. Outside professional activities do not include external activities in which the GW employee is serving as a representative of GW, is expected as part of their role, defined within their employment agreement, or is requested by their manager.

How do I document advance approval?

You can utilize the advance approval form or seek advance approval via email to be sent to Ashley Fountaine ([email protected]), Director of Ethics and Compliance.