Skip to content

SDC’s Amazing Shrinking Conflict of Interest Policy

August 31, 2009

Step right up ‘n behold the Mysterious Main Attraction at our Crazy Carnival of Conflict, folks!  This one’s a real doozy too.  You see, unbeknownst to most, the Save Darfur Coalition’s employee handbook has gone through all sorts of interesting little transformations since its creation, and I invite you to come explore them with me.  Together, we’re about to enter a mystical world full of merriment and wonder: the world of employment law!

Okay, okay.  So as carnivals go, its really not that merry or wonderful.  But come on; why the long faces?

Okay, okay. So as carnivals go, it's really not that merry or wonderful. But come on; why the long faces?

Here’s SDC’s Conflict of Interest and Outside Employment Statement from a SDC employee handbook that was last modified on August 3rd, 2007.  (If you don’t want to read the two handbook selections in their entirety, just skip to the bottom where I discuss the differences between the two documents.):

CONFLICT OF INTEREST AND OUTSIDE EMPLOYMENT STATEMENT

In General

Save Darfur Coalition expects its employees to conduct work according to the highest ethical standards of conduct.  Employees are expected to devote their best efforts to the interests of the organization.  Work activities that appear to create a conflict between the interests of the organization and an employee are not acceptable.  Save Darfur Coalition recognizes the right of employees to engage in activities outside of their employment that is of a private nature and unrelated to Save Darfur Coalition’s work.  However, the employee must disclose any possible conflicts so that the organization may assess and prevent potential conflicts of interest from arising.  A potential or actual conflict of interest occurs whenever an employee is in a position to influence a decision that may result in personal gain for the employee or an immediate family member (i.e., spouse or significant other, children, parents, siblings) as a result of the organization’s work. Although it is not possible to specify every action that might create a conflict of interest, this policy sets forth the ones that most frequently present problems.  If an employee has any question whether an action or proposed course of conduct would create a conflict of interest, she or he should immediately contact the Deputy or Executive Director to obtain advice on the issue.  The purpose of this policy is to protect employees from any conflict of interest that might arise.

Violation of this policy may result in discipline, up to and including termination of employment.

Outside Employment

Employees are required to obtain written approval from their supervisor before participating in outside work activities.  Approval will be granted unless the activity conflicts with the organization’s interest.  In general, outside work activities are not allowed when they:

  • prevent the employee from fully performing work for which she or he is employed at Save Darfur Coalition, including overtime assignments;
  • involve organizations that are working with or seeking to work with Save Darfur Coalition, including actual or potential vendors; or
  • violate provisions of law or Save Darfur Coalition’s policies or rules.

From time to time, Save Darfur Coalition employees may be required to work beyond their normally scheduled hours.  Employees are expected to perform this work when requested.  In cases of conflict with any outside activity, the employee’s obligations to the organization must be given priority. Employees are hired and continue in Save Darfur Coalition’s employ with the understanding that Save Darfur Coalition is their primary employer and that other employment or commercial involvement that is in conflict with the organizational interests of Save Darfur Coalition is strictly prohibited.

Political Activities

In order to retain its tax-exempt status, Save Darfur Coalition is prohibited from participation, intervention and/or involvement, either direct or indirect, in support of, or in opposition to any candidate for elective office.  Accordingly, all employees are expected to refrain from engaging in political activities on Save Darfur Coalition property in order to avoid allegations that the private actions of its employees are in reality the actions of Save Darfur Coalition.

Organizational Affiliation

Whenever a staff member chooses to hold a position in any outside organization based on her or his expertise and her or his affiliation with Save Darfur Coalition, such representation shall be approved by the Deputy or Executive Director.  Such representation shall cease upon her or his resignation or termination of employment from Save Darfur Coalition.

Financial Interest in Other Business

An employee and her or his immediate family may not own or hold any interest in a supplier or vendor of the organization, except where such ownership or interest consists of securities in a publicly owned company and that securities are regularly traded on the open market.

Acceptance of Gifts

No employee may solicit or accept gifts of significant value (i.e., in excess of $25.00), lavish entertainment or other benefits from potential and actual donors or suppliers.  Special care must be taken to avoid even the impression of a conflict of interest.

An employee may entertain potential or actual donors if such entertainment is consistent with accepted business practices, does not violate any law or generally accepted ethical standard, and the public disclosure of the facts of such entertainment will not embarrass the organization.  Any questions regarding this policy should be addressed to the Executive or Deputy Director.

Work Product Ownership

All Save Darfur Coalition employees must be aware that Save Darfur Coalition retains legal ownership of the product of their work.  No work product created while employed by Save Darfur Coalition can be claimed, construed or presented as property of the individual, even after employment by Save Darfur Coalition has ended or the relevant project completed.  This includes written and electronic documents, audio and video recordings, system code, and also any concepts, ideas, or other intellectual property developed for Save Darfur Coalition, regardless of whether the intellectual property is actually used by Save Darfur Coalition. Although it is acceptable for an employee to display and/or discuss a portion or the whole of certain work product as an example in certain situations (e.g., on a resume, in a freelancer’s meeting with a prospective client), one must bear in mind that information classified as confidential must remain so even after the end of employment, and that supplying certain other entities with certain types of information may constitute a conflict of interest, a violation of law and Save Darfur Coalition policy.  In any event, it must always be made clear that work product is the sole and exclusive property of Save Darfur Coalition.  Freelancers, Interns, Consultants and temporary employees must be particularly careful in the course of any work they discuss doing, or actually do, for a competitor of Save Darfur Coalition.

Reporting Potential Conflicts

An employee must promptly disclose actual or potential conflicts of interest, in writing, to his or her supervisor.  The supervisor will then bring to the attention the actual or potential conflict of interest to the Executive Director, or his or her designee.  The Executive Director will then determine whether approval is granted.

WHISTLEBLOWER POLICY

The purpose of this policy is to state clearly and unequivocally that Save Darfur Coalition   prohibits discrimination, harassment and/or retaliation against any employee who provides information or otherwise assists in an investigation or proceeding regarding any conduct which he or she reasonably believes to be a violation of any laws, rules, or regulations, and which violation creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety, or threatens to disclose such violation.  Everyone at Save Darfur Coalition is responsible for assuring that the workplace is free from all forms of discrimination, harassment and retaliation prohibited by this policy.  No manger, employee, agent, contractor or subcontractor of Save Darfur Coalition has the authority to engage in any conduct prohibited by this policy.

This policy protects any employee who:

  • Discloses or threatens to disclose to a supervisor an activity, policy or practice that is in violation of a law, rule or regulation, which violation creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety;
  • Provides information, testifies, participates in, or otherwise assists in a proceeding before any public body conducting a hearing or inquiry into any violation of a law, rule, regulation, policy, practice or activity by Save Darfur Coalition, which violation creates or presents a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety;
  • Discloses or threatens to disclose to a public body an activity, policy or practice that is in violation of a law, rule or regulation, which violation creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety, provided the employee had previously brought such activity, policy or practice to the attention of a supervisor and afforded Save Darfur Coalition a reasonable time to correct such activity, practice or policy;
  • Provides truthful information to a law enforcement officer relating to the commission or possible commission of a federal offense; or
  • Discloses or threatens to disclose to a supervisor or public body, or refuses to participate in any activity that the employee, in good faith, reasonably believes violates any law, rule, regulation, or declaratory ruling which may present a significant threat to the health of a client or employee receiving health services from Save Darfur Coalition.

If an employee engages in any of the activities listed above, Save Darfur Coalition will not discharge, demote, suspend, threaten, harass or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against him or her in the terms or conditions of employment because of that activity.

Any employee who believes that he or she has been the subject of prohibited discrimination, harassment and/or retaliation or is aware of any conduct which may be prohibited by this policy is strongly encouraged to report immediately the facts forming the basis of that belief or knowledge to his or her supervisor, or the Executive or Deputy Director.  Any employee who witnesses any conduct which may be prohibited by this policy must immediately notify his or her supervisor.

Upon receiving a complaint, Save Darfur Coalition will promptly conduct a thorough investigation.  It is the obligation of all employees to cooperate in such an investigation.  Those responsible for the investigation will maintain the confidentiality of the allegations of the complaint and the identity of the person(s) involved, subject to the need to (a) conduct a full and impartial investigation, (b) remedy any violations of Save Darfur Coalition   policies, or (c) monitor compliance with Save Darfur Coalition policies.

The investigation generally will include, but may not be limited to, discussion with the complaining employee, the party against whom allegations have been made, and witnesses, if appropriate.  Save Darfur Coalition prohibits retaliation against any employee who makes a complaint under this policy or participates in Save Darfur Coalition’s investigation.

In the event that an investigation establishes that an employee has engaged in conduct or actions constituting discrimination, harassment and/or retaliation in violation of this policy, Save Darfur Coalition will take corrective action up to and including termination of employment.

Pretty standard, no?  But apparently that had too many pesky rules or was just too darn specific for SDC, because here’s that same section of a later version (now just called the Conflict of Interest Policy) of their handbook that was last modified on October 28th, 2008:

CONFLICT OF INTEREST POLICY

In General

Save Darfur Coalition expects its employees to conduct work according to the highest ethical standards of conduct.  You have a responsibility to avoid conduct or actions that may create or appear to create a conflict of interest with Save Darfur Coalition.

A conflict of interest may arise if you take actions or have interests that are inconsistent with the interests of the organization or that interfere with your ability to perform your job effectively on behalf of the organization.  While it is not possible to list every type of conduct or action that creates or appears to create a conflict of interest, this policy outlines the most common ways in which a conflict of interest may arise.  All employees must avoid conduct or actions that create or appear to create a conflict of interest pursuant to this policy.  If an employee has any question whether any action or proposed course of conduct would create a conflict of interest, she or he should immediately contact the Chief Operating Officer or President to obtain advice on the issue.

Violation of this policy may result in discipline, up to and including termination of employment.

Outside Employment

Employment by employees outside of Save Darfur Coalition may create or appear to create a conflict of interest.  Generally, an apparent or actual conflict of interest will arise from any outside employment that:

  • prevents the employee from fully performing work for which she or he is employed at Save Darfur Coalition, including overtime assignments;
  • involves organizations that are working with or seeking to work with Save Darfur Coalition, including actual or potential vendors; or
  • violates provisions of law or Save Darfur Coalition’s policies or rules.

Any employee who is employed outside of Save Darfur Coalition must advise their supervisor of such employment.  Save Darfur Coalition reserves the right to prohibit any outside employment that creates or appears to create a conflict of interest.

Political Activities

In order to retain its tax-exempt status, Save Darfur Coalition is prohibited from participation, intervention and/or involvement, either direct or indirect, in support of, or in opposition to any candidate for elective office.  Accordingly, all employees are expected to refrain from engaging in political activities on Save Darfur Coalition property, including through the use of any Save Darfur computers, or on Save Darfur Coalition business in order to avoid allegations that the private actions of its employees are in reality the actions of Save Darfur Coalition.

Organizational Affiliation

Whenever a staff member chooses to hold a position in any outside organization based on her or his expertise and her or his affiliation with Save Darfur Coalition, such representation must be previously approved by the Chief of Staff or President.  Such representation shall cease upon her or his resignation or termination of employment from Save Darfur Coalition.

Acceptance of Gifts

No employee may solicit or accept gifts of significant value (i.e., in excess of $50.00), lavish entertainment or other benefits from potential and actual donors or suppliers.  Special care must be taken to avoid even the impression of a conflict of interest.

An employee may entertain potential or actual donors if such entertainment is consistent with accepted business practices, does not violate any law or generally accepted ethical standard, and the public disclosure of the facts of such entertainment will not embarrass the organization.  Any questions regarding this policy should be addressed to the President or Chief Operating Officer.

Reporting Potential Violations of Conflicts of Interest Policy

If you become aware of any conduct that violates this policy, you should immediately report the violation to your supervisor, unless you are reporting a violation by your supervisor.  If you believe your supervisor may be violating this policy, you should immediately report the violation to the Chief Operating Officer.

Upon receiving a complaint, Save Darfur Coalition may promptly conduct a thorough investigation.  Any resulting investigation will be kept confidential to the extent possible and information relating to the investigation will be disclosed only to those with a need to know.  It is the obligation of all employees to cooperate in such an investigation.

In the event that an investigation establishes that an employee has engaged in conduct in violation of this policy, Save Darfur Coalition will take corrective action up to and including termination of employment.

WHISTLEBLOWER POLICY

Save Darfur Coalition   prohibits retaliation against any employee as a result of their reporting, or threatening to report, unlawful activity by Save Darfur Coalition, or any of its employees, agents, contractors, or subcontractors.  No manager, employee, agent, contractor or subcontractor of Save Darfur Coalition has the authority to engage in any conduct prohibited by this policy.

Any employee, who believes they have been retaliated against in violation of this policy, must immediately notify the President or Chief Operating Officer.

Important:  If you have a complaint regarding a potential violation of the Non-Discrimination and Harassment Policy, you must follow the reporting procedure set forth in that Policy.

Upon receiving a complaint, Save Darfur Coalition may promptly conduct a thorough investigation.  Any resulting investigation will be kept confidential to the extent possible and information relating to the investigation will be disclosed only to those with a need to know.  It is the obligation of all employees to cooperate in such an investigation.

In the event that an investigation establishes that an employee has engaged in conduct in violation of this policy, Save Darfur Coalition will take corrective action up to and including termination of employment.

As you can see, lots of changes have been made from top to bottom.  The sentence “A potential or actual conflict of interest occurs whenever an employee is in a position to influence a decision that may result in personal gain for the employee or an immediate family member (i.e., spouse or significant other, children, parents, siblings) as a result of the organization’s work” has been removed from the In General section.  The Whistleblower Policy has been drastically gutted and what remains of it has been tweaked.  Specifically, note that the earlier version says “Upon receiving a complaint, Save Darfur Coalition will promptly conduct a thorough investigation,” while “will” is replaced with “may” in the later version.  That’s my favorite.  Essentially, they changed it to say that even their willingness to investigate something as serious as a potential conflict is selective.  That takes balls, gentle reader.  Additionally, while the Work Product Ownership section has simply been moved to a different part of the handbook, the Financial Interest in Other Businesses section has been removed entirely.  This standard part of most handbooks, sometimes known as a “kickback clause,” refers specifically to conflicts that arise from personal or family interests.

Now, lots of organizations change their employee handbooks over time, often to provide further clarification of some policy.  Perhaps their lawyers alert them to a new law or some specific occurrence merits a deeper explanation of a particular rule.  For example, if some employees have a habit of dressing inappropriately, an employer may go into further detail in the Dress Code section.  But the trend is generally toward providing more, not less, clarification of a policy.  If anything, employers typically over-explain the rules in an effort to protect both themselves and their employees.  So what would prompt SDC to remove information instead?  Why on earth would any employer want the rules to be more vague?  What would make SDC shrink, rather than expand, their conflict of interest policy?

Advertisements

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: