Chapter 8 – Conflict of Interest in Employment (Nepotism)
Note: This chapter is one of several that address conflicts of interest of various types at The University of Iowa. Others include: II-5 Consensual Relationships Involving Students, which addresses faculty-student relationships that are either prohibited or discouraged due to role conflicts; and II-18 Conflicts of Commitment and Interest, which addresses time conflicts, role conflicts in the workplace, and financial conflicts of interest. See also II-18.7 Other University Policies Related to Conflict of Interest for a complete list of policies that address or are related to conflicts of interest.
The University of Iowa and its employees are committed to the principle of objective, fair, and equitable treatment of all employees. Accordingly, it is crucial that University activities be conducted in an atmosphere that is free of actual or apparent conflicts of interest that compromise this principle. For the purpose of protecting both the integrity and objectivity of its employees in the performance of their University obligations, and to create a workplace environment based in equity and fairness, it is the policy of the University that conflicts of interest should be avoided where possible, and otherwise disclosed and managed.
A conflict of interest in employment at The University of Iowa may arise when 1) an individual University of Iowa employee has the responsibility to make, or participate actively in making, decisions or recommendations relating to the employment status of another individual University of Iowa employee (hereafter, "decision-making responsibility"), or 2) there is a direct reporting line between two such individuals.
Given 1) or 2) above, a conflict of interest in employment arises whenever the two such individuals (hereafter, "related individuals") have a current or former relationship occurring outside the work setting that would make it difficult for the individual with the decision-making responsibility to be objective, or that for a reasonable person would create the appearance that such an individual may not be objective. Examples include, but are not limited to, the following:
- relationships by blood, adoption, marriage, or domestic partnership: partner, parent, child, sibling, first cousin, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, spouse, brother- or sister-in-law, father- or mother-in-law, son- or daughter-in-law, step-parent, or step-child; or
- romantic and/or sexual relationships or intense personal friendships, or significant business relationships.
For purposes of these rules, decisions or recommendations related to employment status include those related to hiring, salary, working conditions, working responsibilities, evaluation, promotion, and termination.
For purposes of these rules, the phrase "first neutral supervisor" means the person (usually the director, departmental executive officer, divisional head, dean of the college, or vice president in charge of the department, college, or unit) immediately superior to the one of the two related individuals who, if there were no conflict of interest, would have decision-making responsibility relating to the employment status of the other related individual.
The decision to manage a conflict of interest in employment rather than avoid it must be based on a sound institutional reason. The collegiate or other major unit officer(s) (typically a dean or vice president, or designee) having primary responsibility for approval of employment-status decisions regarding the related individuals also has/have the responsibility of determining whether such a reason exists. If such a reason exists, related individuals can be employed, or can continue to be employed, by the University only if a management plan is developed as described in III-8.6 below.
An individual is not deemed to have decision-making responsibility (and therefore no conflict of interest in employment exists) if that individual's participation is limited to routine approvals and the individual plays no role involving the exercise of any discretion in the decision-making processes. The collegiate or other major unit officer(s) (typically a dean or vice president, or designee) having primary responsibility for approval of employment-status decisions regarding the related individuals also has/have the responsibility for determining whether a conflict of interest in employment exists.
If any question arises whether an individual's participation is greater than is permitted by this section, the Committee on Conflict of Interest in Employment ("Committee") should be consulted for its consideration and recommendation (see III-8.9 below).
If a conflict of interest in employment is occasional or irregular (e.g., a tenure or promotion vote), recusal is an acceptable and necessary mechanism for managing the conflict. In such cases, a written statement by the person having the decision-making responsibility that he or she will recuse him- or herself from any employment-related decisions pertaining to the other individual is desirable, but not required.
If the conflict of interest in employment is not occasional or irregular but is ongoing so that recusal is not a reasonable mechanism for managing the conflict, other mechanisms (see https://hr.uiowa.edu/policies/conflict-interest-employment) must be adopted. The process to manage the conflict is initiated by notification of the relationship. Ideally, both related individuals should bring the existence of the relationship to the attention of the first neutral supervisor. However, as soon as one of the related individuals does so, the first neutral supervisor shall begin to develop a management plan. For relationships that develop between persons already in a supervisory relationship or when an organizational change results or would result in a supervisory relationship between two related individuals, disclosure should be made at the earliest possible date and no later than within ninety days after commencement of the conflict of interest situation.
To deal with situations in which a conflict of interest might arise through a hiring decision, a management plan must be developed such that the hiring process itself is conducted free of any actual or apparent conflicts of interest. In such cases, disclosure of the relationship should be made at the earliest possible point, in many cases even before the related individual applies for the position.
- As soon as notification of an actual or potential conflict of interest in employment has been received, the first neutral supervisor must develop a management plan by which the one related individual with the decision-making responsibility is removed from the decision-making processes that affect the employment status of the other related individual. If all the relevant individuals desire, a neutral supervisor superior to the first neutral supervisor may develop the management plan. If the conflict of interest might arise through a hiring decision, then the hiring process itself should be included in the management plan.
A template describing the elements of a management plan is available at https://hr.uiowa.edu/policies/conflict-interest-employment. In addition, the co-chairs of the Committee on the Conflict of Interest in Employment (see III-8.9 below) are available for consultation regarding development of a management plan.
- The development of a management plan itself should not involve the participation of the related individuals except as provided by paragraph a above.
- The plan developed to manage the conflict of interest in employment of related individuals shall be submitted to the Committee on Conflict of Interest in Employment, after review by the dean, director, or vice president, as appropriate.
- The Committee shall review the proposed management plan and make recommendations on its use based upon its evaluation of the management plan's probable effectiveness in managing the conflict of interest in employment. The Committee's evaluation will include but not be limited to consideration of the plan's effectiveness in providing for objective decision making, creating and maintaining an atmosphere of equity and fairness, providing consistency in the treatment of employees, and allowing for the effective and efficient operation of the unit(s) in which the related individuals are employed. Where appropriate, the Committee also may recommend modifications to or rejection of the proposed management plan.
- The recommendations of the Committee shall be made to the University officer having responsibility for final approval of the employment status decision. This officer shall make the decision concerning implementation of the management plan. If that officer is involved in the conflict of interest, the decision will be made by the President or the Board of Regents as appropriate.
- The Committee shall evaluate, periodically as it determines, or upon request of any individual who believes s/he is affected adversely by the management plan, the effectiveness of the established plan created to manage the conflict of interest in employment. The Committee's evaluation and recommendations for continuations, revisions, or rejection of the management plan shall be submitted to the vice president or other official who approved the implementation of the plan.
These provisions apply to related individuals whose relationship is current or former when these rules are adopted or at the time they seek employment by the University, or arises after the date of their employment by the University.
This policy applies to both full-time and part-time, regular and temporary faculty and staff, and to students and persons with fellowships which involve employment at the University. It does not apply, however, in cases where the individual over whom the other individual has responsibilities to make decisions or recommendations related to employment is compensated in the amount of $1,800 or less in any fiscal year.
(Note: This policy applies only to employment relationships. Romantic and/or sexual relationships between faculty and students in the instructional context are governed by II-5 Policy on Consensual Relationships Involving Students.)
The development of a plan to manage a conflict of interest in employment should proceed expeditiously. In the event that an acceptable management plan cannot be developed, despite diligent efforts on the part of the first neutral supervisor or other designated person, within six months of the notification of the relationship of the related individuals, one of them must give up his or her position at the University (preferably through transfer) not later than one year after notification of the conflict.
The Committee shall consist of four members appointed by the Faculty Senate and three members appointed by the Staff Council. Members of the Committee shall be appointed for staggered three-year terms but no person may be appointed for more than two consecutive terms. The Associate Provost for Faculty and the Chief Human Resources Officer or their designees shall serve as co-chairs of the Committee. Decisions of the Committee shall be by majority vote of the Committee members voting on the decision. Committee members shall not participate in the development and approval of a management plan or the oversight of a management plan if a) they are related to either of the related individuals; b) they participated in the development of the management plan in their unit of employment; c) their conditions of employment could be affected by a management plan; or d) some other conflict of interest exists.
All meetings and deliberations of the Committee shall be confidential and all written materials reviewed by the Committee or other persons involved in the development of a management plan, shall be considered part of the personnel files of the related individuals, and also shall be confidential. One of the Committee's co-chairs shall keep on file the Committee's official copy of all management plans. Any information disclosed by either of the related individuals for the purpose of developing the management plan shall be used solely for that purpose. However, faculty, staff, and students who are in a position to be affected significantly by a conflict of interest in employment shall be informed of the existence of the management plan, and shall be provided with information regarding the appropriate person(s) to whom they may bring relevant concerns. In most cases, this will be the first neutral supervisor for faculty and staff, although departmental human resource representatives or the Director of Undergraduate or Graduate Studies may be the more appropriate person for staff and students, respectively, in some units.
All complaints regarding violations of this policy shall be referred (for faculty) to the Executive Vice President and Provost, or (for staff) to the Chief Human Rights Officer. If the Executive Vice President and Provost or the Chief Human Rights Officer receives a specific and credible complaint from any source that a conflict-of-interest-in-employment relationship exists, he or she shall investigate the matter immediately in order to determine whether any conflict of interest in employment exists and, if so, whether a management plan is in place. Because of the sensitive nature of this type of complaint, any investigation shall only be undertaken personally by the Executive Vice President and Provost, appropriate vice president, or associate provost or associate vice president and shall not be delegated to another. If he or she determines that a conflict exists but that no management plan has been implemented, he or she shall identify the first neutral supervisor for the purpose of developing an appropriate management plan. If he or she determines that no such relationship exists, or that it does exist but that an appropriate management plan is in place, he or she shall so advise the complainant.
Employees who wish to challenge administrative actions that are taken pursuant to this policy may do so following the appropriate policy for their employment status: specifically, for faculty, the Faculty Dispute Procedures (III-29); for staff, III-28 Conflict Management Resources for University Staff.
Violations of this policy may include but are not limited to concealing a conflict-of-interest relationship or willful failure or refusal to cooperate with an approved management plan. Violations of this policy are deemed a serious violation of policies governing employment and may subject the employee to disciplinary action.
Any proposed disciplinary actions resulting from violations of this policy:
- by persons holding faculty appointments will be governed by III-29 Faculty Dispute Procedures and the portion of the procedures dealing with faculty ethics (III-15);
- by staff members will be governed by applicable Regent Merit System Rules and University policies, including III-16 Ethics and Responsibility Statement for University Staff, and the applicable grievance procedures, including III-28 Conflict Management Resources for University Staff.
(See also II-18 Conflicts of Commitment and Interest.)