Case Studies

Other supporting resources of interest:

Adapted from the ATO’s “Play it Again Sam” or “Judge for Yourself” Presenters’ Guides.

Jack Lock is Procurement Manager responsible for managing major tenders for laboratory equipment. At a recent gathering of colleagues Jack is discussing the upcoming tenders and how many products they are seeking to include in the tender. Jack has a key role to play on the selection panel.

Later that week, one of his colleagues, Stanley invites him to join his friends for a drink at the local hotel after work, and Jack accepts. He is introduced to Bernie Alfutz, Stanley’s brother in law, who has personal connections with Technol a major supplier of laboratory equipment and a possible tenderer.

During the evening, the men share their weekend plans. Jack was hoping to get to the football but all the tickets had sold out. Bernie suggests he join him and his family in the VIP member’s area. Jack can’t believe his luck. He’s overwhelmed at the offer and isn’t sure about it. However, he considers the invitation is a family event and not work related. It won’t influence his judgement. At the footy, he has a great time enjoying a lavish lunch and unlimited drinks. The following fortnight he is again invited to join the family for the football and to bring a friend. He accepts the tickets. Jack had such a great time and the family were wonderful. He reminds himself about the importance of neutrality and believes that he will not be influenced in his decision making. He gets lots of invitations to events and doesn’t let it influence his decision making.

Three weeks later the tenders close, Technol bids and Jack is chairing the Panel.

Potential risks arising include:

  1. Multiple breaches of the University’s Code of Conduct.
  2. Potential conflict of interest resulting in biased decision-making and financial loss to the University.
    Refer to the Management of Conflict of Interest Policy.  Staff member could be perceived to be biased and influenced in his decision making during the tender given the gifts of the football tickets.
  3. Adverse impact on the University's reputation if the receipt of the gifts by a university staff member during the procurement cycle is reported in the press and to other suppliers. 
  4. Reportable behaviour by a University staff member to the Office of Public Integrity

Minimisation or management measures

  1. Reject any offers of gifts, benefits or hospitality where these gifts, benefits or hospitality may influence or be seen to be influencing your duties as an employee of the University in any way.
  2. Avoid getting into situations where a potential conflict of interest may arise e.g. in this particular case, the staff member concerned should not have accepted the football tickets given the donation came from the potential tenderer.
  3. In a situation such as that outlined above, you should immediately declare a potential conflict of interest and withdraw from the procurement decision-making process. Refer to the Management of Conflict of Interest Policy. In addition, attempt to make financial restitution for the benefits received (i.e. for the football ticket).
  4. Always act within the law – The University is a public authority operating within a clear legal and accountability framework. You have a responsibility to perform your duties professionally, as an employee and in accordance with expected internal standards of behaviour – please refer to the Code of Ethical Conduct.  

A business area identifies the need for an administration officer to undertake a short term part time contract. The manager’s daughter has graduated and is looking for part time work. The manager works with the People, Talent and Culture team to establish a position description for the administration officer, setting out the fraction of time and duties.

The manager does not mention that her daughter could be a potential applicant.

When the role is advertised and the manager's daughter applies, the manager reports the conflict of interest to their line manager and removes themself from the selection panel. When the panel recommends the manager's daughter as the preferred candidate, the manager asks the Director to confirm the panel’s recommendation.

The manager’s daughter accepts the offer of the role.

Issues

From the beginning, the manager had a potential conflict of interest knowing that their daughter was likely to apply. By being involved in the preparation of the job description, there could be a perceived conflict in that the position was shaped or influenced to suit the manager's daughter’s qualifications and availability.

While the manager withdrew from the panel and referred the authorisation for appointment to their manager, there could still be a perception of a conflict of interest, given the panel comprised subordinates to the manager. Even though the panel may believe they acted impartially, given the manager’s involvement in the role creation there may still be a perception that this influenced the outcome.

The manager should have disclosed the potential for their daughter to be interested in the role at the very beginning of considering placing the role and withdrawn himself from any involvement in the process.

Potential risks arising include:

  1. Damage to the University's reputation and potential discontent amongst other staff who feel disadvantaged.
  2. Potential conflict of interest as their daughter has been appointed, whenever a decision is made that may affect the daughter's role or employment arrangements e.g. approving leave or access to professional development.

Mitigation or management actions:

  1. In the case above, the manager would need to immediately put in place processes to manage any ongoing conflict of interest situations surrounding their daughter’s employment while she remains in the employment of the University.
  2. The manager should submit a Declaration of Conflict of Interest form to indicate that the matter has been reported appropriately to her line manager.
  3. Withdraw from involvement / engagement in employment decisions that may involve family members to prevent perceived potential or actual conflict, and declare the potential conflict of interest to your line manager as soon as you are aware a conflict is possible.

A Professor is conducting research to look at audience participation in major sporting activities. As part of this research the Professor is travelling overseas to conduct participation reactions at world soccer events. The research methodology requires the gathering of a range of audience participation data and the Professor has identified that he requires three research assistants. He identifies through his travel booking that his wife will be one of these research assistants and her travel will be funded by the University.

The Professor's wife is an academic who is not employed by the University, and the Professor has requested a casual contract be issued to support the assistance for his research.

Issues

There is an actual conflict of interest in this situation, given the Professor and the research assistant are married. There has been no open selection process to identify who should fille the place of the research assistant. The Professor believes this is a reasonable arrangement because his wife is a highly competent academic and can readily assist him as she is familiar with his research. However, it is an actual conflict of interest to secure this employment for a family member, and raises concerns about an abuse of office for personal gain.

Potenial risks arising include:

  1. Damage to the reputation of the University and the individual.
  2. Actual conflict of interest and a breach of the Code of Ethical Conduct given the personal gain.
  3. Breach of the University’s Code of Ethical Conduct - through personal gain and, unauthorised use of University resources. 

Mitigation or management actions:

  1. Establish appropriate merit selection processes for the appointment of the research assistant.
  2. Submit a Declaration of Conflict of Interest form to indicate that the matter has been reported appropriately to the Head of School.

The National Energy Foundation (NEF) has awarded a grant to the University to fund a Professor's research proposal. The project involves research on processes and a range of materials for CdTe photovoltaic (PV) devices in solar energy. The Professor has several personal consulting agreements with companies involved in Renewable energy. The Professor also sits on the Board of Advisors of Renewable Energy Inc. and has 400 shares in stock. The company has recently begun investigating new methods of solar energy production with the intent of competing with commercial solar panel distributors currently operating in the commercial market. The results of the Professor's NEF project, if positive, could have a significant impact on product development within Renewable Energy Inc.

Issues

While the Professor is not directly involved in the research projects conducted by Renewable Energy Inc. the situation above could pose a perceived or potential conflict of interest given the Professor's role on the Board, the potential personal gain from the company and the employment as an academic employed by the University.

Potential risks arising include:

  1. Damage to the reputation of the University and the individual
  2. Conflict of interest potential, given personal gain of the individual.

Mitigation or management actions:

  1. Submit a Declaration of Conflict of Interest form including a conflict management plan to the Head of School.
  2. Declare the potential for a conflict of interest to the Board of Advisors of Renewable Energy Inc.

A Professor has been employed by the University for 15 years in Health Sciences, working closely with the School Manager.  They have formed a highly professional and trusting relationship.

Health Sciences has been engaged in research with BA Co. and there has been a signed research agreement in place for the past two years. The company has decided to cease the arrangement with the University.

The Professor arranges with BA Co. to undertake private consultancy work for at the conclusion of the research agreement with the University. The Professor is a continuing employee of the University and a School Manager to assist in administering the consultancy agreement.

The School Manager notices that the consultancy agreement mirrored the work that was undertaken through the previous research agreement between the University and BA Co. The private consultancy agreement vested the intellectual property with BA Co. The School Manager expressed concern that this would undermine the intellectual property rights of the University and also questioned why this was a personal consultancy agreement given it was the same research previously conducted by the University.

The School Manager’s concerns were further heightened when the Professor advised they would be using graduate students to perform the research at no cost to the company as it would be part of their learning development.

The School Manager raised these concerns with the Professor however they were dismissed as irrelevant. Not comfortable with this outcome, the School Manager raised their concerns with the Head of School, who approached the Professor to discuss what appeared to be a conflict of interest.

The Professor was angry that the School Manager had betrayed their long-standing trust and professional relationship by raising it with the Head of School.

Issues

While BA Co. may have good reasons for ending the funded research with the University, the consultancy arrangement established by the Professor mirrored the outcomes required from the previous research agreement with the University. The difference, however, was that the funding of the project would now be paid directly to the Professor and not the University. There was also no protection of the intellectual property for the University, and the Professor was still a paid employee of the University. There had been no approval for undertaking outside work by the Professor, nor was there any declaration of a conflict of interest. The Professor was also using UniSA resources to administer and support his consultancy.

Potential risks arising include:

  1. Damage to the reputation of the University and the individual.
  2. Dispute over ownership of intellectual property.
  3. Conflict of commitment to the primary employer, the University.
  4. Breach of trust with students in using them for personal gain.
  5. Breach of the University’s Code of Ethical Conduct - personal gain, unauthorised use of University resources.  
  6. Staff member has used their professional role and information gained in the course of their duties for personal gain.
  7. Potential misconduct.
  8. School Manager is placed in a position of conflict of interest and ethical dilemma over their personal relationship with colleague.

Mitigation or management actions:

  1. Seek approval to undertake work outside of your current employment arrangement with the University.
  2. Cease the consultancy arrangements with BA Co. – there is a lack of protection for intellectual property rights and conflict of interest with the University’s previous research agreement.
  3. Discuss with the Head of School options for the University to renegotiate a research agreement with BA Company that protects the rights of the University and the integrity of the research conducted.
  4. Reject offers of contracts of employment with external parties including consultancy arrangements where these may influence or be seen to be influencing in any way your duties as an employee of the University.
  5. Refer to the Management of Conflict of Interest Policy.
  6. Always act within the law – The University operates within a clear legal and accountability framework and you have a responsibility to perform your duties professionally, as an employee and in accordance with expected internal standards of behaviour – refer to the Code of Ethical Conduct. 
  7. The University would investigate the actions of the Professor to consider whether there has been a breach of the Code of Ethical Conduct, and determine whether disciplinary action will follow. Consider potential referral to the Office of Public Integrity.

Jenny has recently been appointed as the Business Manager. One of Jenny’s responsibilities in her new role is to manage casual contracts. Jenny’s daughter is in a relationship with one of the casual staff. There have been several complaints by staff and students about his performance. The casual contract is due for renewal. Jenny has been asked to speak with the casual staff member about their performance but has not done so yet. One of the staff approach Jenny to request that no further work is provided.

Issues

Jenny has not reported a conflict of interest to her line manager and staff are not aware of the personal relationship between her daughter and the casual staff member. Jenny has not spoken to the casual staff member about their performance as she has not had the opportunity. She believes she can remain impartial and objective in decision-making, however, a reasonable person might consider that she would be influenced by her association with the casual staff member through her daughter.

Jenny should report the conflict of interest to her line manager, and agree on steps to mitigate risk, such as arranging for an alternative staff member to manage the casual contracts and provide feedback to the staff member. Jenny should not be involved in the recruitment or selection of casuals and contract renewals where her daughter’s boyfriend may be an applicant.

Potential risks arising include:

  1. Potential conflict of interest resulting in biased decision-making. 
  2. The Business Manager could be perceived to be gaining personal benefit for a family member by maintaining employment of the casual staff member and not applying appropriate management.
  3. Breach of the Code of Ethical Conduct by not declaring or managing the conflict of interest.
  4. Creating distrust amongst colleagues due to inaction as a result of a and conflict of interest.

Mitigation or management actions:

  1. Declare a potential, perceived or actual conflict of interest where the employment of a family member or close friend or family /friend connection is involved.
  2. Report the situation to the line manager to avoid situations where the employment of a family member or close friend or family /friend connection may influence or be seen to be influencing your duties as an employee of the University.
  3. Avoid getting into situations where a potential conflict of interest may arise e.g. in this particular case, the employment of a relative or close personal connection.
  4. Refer to the Management of Conflict of Interest Policy.