What is a Conflict of Interest?

In simple terms a Conflict of Interest (CoI) exists when a person has a competing interest between their obligations to their employer and a 'private interest' which could improperly influence or appear to improperly influence the performance of their official duties.  A ‘private interest’ includes not only the personal, professional or business interests that a staff member may have, but also the personal, professional or business interests of the individuals or groups that they associate with.  This might include friends, relatives or even rivals.

CoI’s can be actual, or be perceived to exist or have the potential to exist at some point in the future:

  • an actual conflict involves a direct conflict between a staff member’s duties and responsibilities to the University and a competing interest or obligation;
  • a potential conflict of interest arises where a staff member has an interest or obligation that could conflict with their duties and responsibilities to the University;
  • a perceived conflict exists where it could reasonably be perceived, or give the appearance, that a competing interest could improperly influence the performance of a staff member’s duties and responsibilities to the University.

Myths about Conflict of Interest

Some common myths and misunderstandings about CoIs include:

  • Declaring a CoI means an employee / appointee cannot be involved in the activity which  brought about, or may bring about the conflict;
  • Having a CoI could result in disciplinary action;
  • All that a supervisor or manager needs to do when a CoI declaration is made to them is to simply sign the Declaration Form as having read it;
  • A CoI will simply go away if you wait long enough.

Managing a Conflict of Interest

While a CoI should be avoided wherever possible, it is not necessarily wrong or unethical to have a CoI.  The important thing is that the conflict is identified and appropriately managed (because they can easily undermine an employee’s reputation and integrity if they’re not).  A CoI can muddy the water and open an employee and their colleagues up for speculation, criticism, and doubt, and also place the University at risk.  It is also important to recognise that a poorly-managed perceived or potential CoI can be just as damaging as a poorly-managed actual CoI.

The University has a Conflict of Interest Policy and a related procedure for identifying, disclosing and managing a CoI.

Employees and appointees of the University must declare any CoI regardless of whether it is an actual, perceived or potential conflict, and a CoI Declaration Form (DOC, 40.2KB) exists for this. The fact is that many CoIs can be effectively managed and the activity that brought about the conflict, or that may bring about the conflict, can continue. Declaring a CoI is an opportunity to explain what the conflict is and to suggest possible strategies to manage it. 

Supervisors and managers - no matter what level - have a responsibility to ensure that their staff take personal responsibility for complying with the University’s standards.  Effective management of CoIs is predicated on employees and appointees of the University being able to identify a CoI when they occur or when they have the potential to occur. Supervisors and managers are pivotal to this process and so need to carefully consider any CoI declared to them against any risks and whether or not those risks can be managed - sometimes they can, sometimes they can’t.  It is important that supervisors and managers determine that the CoI declaration accurately reflects the circumstances in question and the potential risks involved and that they convey the expectations regarding the management of the CoI. 

Some of the benefits for the early identification and declaration of a CoI are that unfounded accusations of bias or favouritism can be dealt with more easily and efficiently and the CoI can be resolved or managed in a transparent, accountable and timely way.

Examples of Conflict of Interest

Supervision:  staff / appointees should not supervise a spouse, partner, relative or a friend. Note: The University’s Personal Relationships in the Workplace Policy outlines the expectation that staff will carry out their duties with integrity and avoid conflicts between their private interests, specifically personal relationships, and their University responsibilities.   

Approvals: staff / appointees must not approve anything for a spouse, partner, relative or friend.  This applies even if the approving person is acting in a more senior role – it is no less a COI.

Recruitment: staff / appointees must not be involved in any recruitment process that involves a spouse, partner, relative or friend, including recommending a spouse, partner, relative or friend for a position.

Procurement: staff / appointees must not be involved in a procurement process where their spouse, partner, relative or friend has an interest, and of course that applies to their own interests.

Advice

If you have any CoI related questions or issues please contact the IIU for advice. You can also read some of the Frequently Asked Questions (PDF, 361KB) about CoI's that the IIU receive and also our CoI Fact Sheet (PDF, 483KB).