Conflict of interest guideline
Intent and objectives
This guideline details some of the circumstances in which a potential conflict of interest may arise. The list of situations and examples of conflict of interest included in this guideline is not intended to be exhaustive.
This guideline applies to all staff employed by the University, including continuing, fixed term, full-time, part-time, and casual staff. This guideline also applies to external appointees of boards and committees.
1. RMIT staff on external company boards and boards of management of other entities
Where a staff member is requested or nominated by the University to a board of management, business risks need to be effectively managed to ensure the University’s commercial interests and reputation are protected. In particular, business risks must be managed where there is the potential for:
- staff members to act in a way which is not, or is perceived not to be, in the best interests of the University
- financial loss to the University because of the staff member’s actions
- boundaries to be blurred between the University and its interests, and an external company and its interests
- the University to be involved in legal proceedings because of the staff member’s position on the board
Where the University intends nominating a staff member to fulfill a directorship or board of management position the staff member should seek independent legal advice to ensure they are informed of their obligations and to help protect the interests of the University.
Directors are subject to the provisions of the Corporations Act. This includes but is not restricted to specific requirements concerning declaration of any conflict of interest, attendance at board discussions, voting by the director on the matter and company record keeping.
2. RMIT staff on RMIT company boards
Staff may be required to (as part of their conditions of employment) or asked to become a director of a RMIT subsidiary or controlled entity. These companies are wholly owned or controlled by the University and must act for the benefit of the University in accordance with the Constitution of the entity. Directors are required to act in the best interests of the company.
Directors are subject to the provisions of the Corporations Act. This includes but it not restricted to specific requirements concerning declaration of any conflict of interest, attendance at board discussions, voting by the director on the matter and company record keeping.
3. RMIT staff engaged in outside work activities
Staff may undertake professional outside activities in accordance with the Outside Activities policy. If so, they will be required to disclose:
- any unpaid outside activity that has any relationship to their professional role within the University, including memberships on boards of management and directorships
- private paid work falling outside of their annual work program where the work is undertaken during their required days or hours of work
- Work that directly or indirectly involves the professional expertise for which they are employed at the University, regardless of when the work is undertaken. This includes work where a benefit flows to a business enterprise with which they, or a relative, are associated, including directorships. Examples include tendering for a consulting contract as an individual in a field which is related to the work the staff member conducts as a RMIT staff member.
For more information please refer to the Outside activities policy.
4. RMIT staff engaged in research
A RMIT University researcher, whether staff or student, must make a full disclosure of any potential or actual conflicts of interest in their research. Where the situation surrounding the conflict of interest involves the signing of a grant application or a research contract on behalf of RMIT, the researcher must make a full disclosure to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation). In any situation a researcher may appeal to the Vice-Chancellor for final determination.
For more information please refer to RMIT code of conduct for research
5. Acceptance of gifts or benefits
As a general principle, staff should not seek or accept favours or gifts for services they perform in connection with their RMIT employment from anyone who could benefit by influencing them in their official capacity. Included in this category are gifts in kind (such as free or discounted accommodation, meals, travel or entertainment), which go beyond common courtesies consistent with ethical and accepted business practices. This principle extends to favours and gifts extended to a staff member’s family. Accepting such gifts may expose staff and/or the University to accusation of bias or favourable consideration.
- Token gifts and benefits as part of normal business:
From time to time, staff dealing with external organisations may receive token benefits as part of normal business relationships. Token benefits may include souvenirs, mementos and symbolic items of low material value. They may also include moderate acts of hospitality when meeting with organisations to develop a working relationship with the University.
In itself, this type of benefit should not be regarded as constituting a breach of this policy. However, a continuing pattern of such token benefits, outside of the specific business relationship, may be seen as a potential breach of this policy. If in doubt, staff should seek guidance from their manager before accepting a gift.
- Gifts of greater than nominal value:
Gifts to the organisation/work area of more than nominal value – for example a painting, or a piece of equipment - are acceptable, but should be disclosed to the relevant member of the Senior Executive.
- Gifts and benefits as an inducement to favour:
If a staff member feels they have been offered a benefit or gift as an attempt to induce favoured treatment, they should immediately report this to their manager. This should be done regardless of whether or not the benefit or gift was accepted. The staff member’s manager should immediately report the circumstances to the relevant member of the Senior Executive.
- Gifts that must not be accepted:
If the University is engaged in a tender process, no gift, no matter how small or insignificant, should be accepted from any tenderer.
Staff must not accept gifts of money.
6. Close personal relationships
Conflict of interest situations may arise from close personal relationships, including family and emotional relationships, between:
- staff and students (for whom staff have a duty of care)
- one staff member and another staff member
For full details refer to the Close personal relationships policy.
7. Delegation of Authority
A staff member should not exercise a delegation of authority where this would involve a conflict of interest such as a personal or financial benefit to the delegate, or the delegate’s family or friends.
8. Employment related matters
Partners, family members or close friends of staff should only be employed where an appropriate independent merit selection process has been observed.
A person who has the delegated authority to employ a staff member cannot authorise the employment of a family member. In exceptional circumstances, the employment approval must be gained from the delegate’s immediate manager.
Partners, family members or close friends cannot be in a direct supervisory relationship to each other. However, the existence of a close personal relationship with a staff member should not constitute a bar to the employment, promotion, granting of tenure or transfer of any individual.
A staff member in an acting position cannot sign off on their own recommendations. They can only be signed of by their manager.
For full details refer to the Recruitment and induction policy.
9. Financial decision making
Purchase of goods and services must be made on the basis of merit. No preference in the placement of orders will be given to any member of Council, member of staff, gift donor, or any person associated with the University in any capacity.
It is the RMIT’s policy that the University should not have any dealings with companies in which members of staff or their relatives have an interest, unless it can be clearly demonstrated to the relevant member of the Senior Executive (by the staff member’s manager) that it is in the interests of the University to have such dealings.
This means that if a staff member makes an offer or submits a tender to supply goods and/or services to the University, they must declare their interest by advising their manager. Similarly, if an entity makes an offer or submits a tender and a staff member has a significant interest in that entity (usually 10% or more, either directly or indirectly), the staff member must declare their interest and advise their manager.
All members of staff are advised to carefully consider all of the implications of any personal dealings with outside concerns that would appear to involve the commitment of RMIT University.
10. Use of University facilities and equipment
Staff members are expected to use the facilities of the University efficiently, carefully and honestly. Such resources must not be used for financial gain or for political purposes without the express permission of the manager. Any agreement for personal use should be minimal and strictly limited. Permission will not be unreasonably withheld.
Examples of conflict of interest situations
- A staff member with decision making powers in relation to a tender offered by the University accepts a gift from a person associated with a company who is tendering the work from the University.
- A staff member having decision-making powers over the employment of staff arranges for a relative to be employed by the University, in the University group for which they are responsible.
- A staff member regularly employs their child to undertake casual administrative work during holiday periods without undertaking any merit based selection process.
- A staff member with responsibility for selection, assessment or supervision of a student’s work who also has a personal or family relationship with that student.
- A staff member is a director of a company that the University is bidding with or is bidding against for contract research funds. The staff member is unlikely to be able to simultaneously meet their obligations as a director of a company and meet their obligations as a RMIT staff member to act in the best interests of the University at all times.
A staff member tenders for and engages in consultancy work as an individual rather than as a RMIT staff member: the work is the same as the work they are employed to perform and they could have engaged in this work as a RMIT staff member.[Next: Supporting documents and information ]